Predicting public approval of Supreme Court nominees: examining factors influencing mass public opinion of stealth nominees in the post-Bork era

Kelly, Daniel
Major Professor
Mack C. Shelley
Dirk Deam
Committee Member
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
Research Projects
Organizational Units
Political Science
Organizational Unit
Journal Issue
Political Science

Conventional wisdom asserts that the American public is ignorant of the Supreme Court and thus, the opinions of average citizens are irrelevant, both in the confirmation debates regarding nominees to the Supreme Court and as a tool of political mobilization. In light of the Seventeenth Amendment's direct election of the Senate and the Senate's advice and consent role, mass public opinion is relevant regardless of the sophistication of their input. Moreover, mobilization of mass public approval or disapproval of nominees is a factor influencing the strategies of partisan politics in general.

It is clear that the public is aware of Supreme Court nominees and they evaluate the nominees on two different bases. First, the public evaluates nominees based on an ideological model to the extent of the information the public possesses about the ideology of nominees. Second, the public assesses nominees on the basis of judicial qualification and suitability for the position of Supreme Court justice, what Gibson and Caldeira refer to as "Judiciousness." This two part evaluation mirrors part of Abrahams' model of executive decision making for Supreme Court nominations.

Given that stealth nominees, herein defined as nominees with limited judicial records, by their nature provide little insight into their ideological beliefs, they do not provoke significant disapproval among the mass public on that basis. Provided they meet some minimum standard of judiciousness, approval of stealth nominees is not negatively affected by the lack of knowledge about the nominee's ideology. Thus, in the cases examined herein presidents were able through the nomination of stealth candidates to avoid public disapproval their nominees to the Court.