Current Supreme Court
President Barack Obama nominated U.S. Appeals Court Judge Merrick Garland on March 16, 2016 to succeed the late Justice Antonin Scalia. Senate Republican leaders simply declined to act on the nomination, asserting that Scalia's successor should be chosen by the presidential candidate elected in November 2016. The gamble paid off, with Republican Donald Trump now set to make the appointment after defeating Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Garland’s nomination officially expired when the new Congress convened on January 3, 2017. The successful Republican gambit means they can shore up the conservative wing of the high court, which is currently evenly split 4-4 between conservatives and liberals.
In past confirmation battles, nominees sometimes have been subject to months of controversy, close votes and outright rejection. But in this case the Senate simply refused to act on a nomination. Garland now returns to his job as chief judge of the federal appeals court in Washington.
Above is a tracker drawn from Senate records, showing the lengths of time for individuals selected for America’s highest court. It marks the time from the date that a president officially presented the nomination to final action in the Senate, whether for or against the nominee. The time periods are associated with particular nominees, not the vacancies themselves, which can go on longer.
For example, the person whose nomination dragged on the longest before confirmation (prior to Garland) was Louis Brandeis, who was under consideration for 125 days and who, upon Senate approval, became the first Jewish justice.
But several court seats have remained vacant for far longer as presidents were forced to submit successive nominations. For example, while Harry Blackmun landed on the court 27 days after he was nominated by President Richard Nixon, the seat he took had been vacant for 391 days, as Nixon first nominated Clement Haynesworth, Jr., and G. Harrold Carswell. Both were rejected by the Senate before Blackmun was confirmed.
That vacancy filled by Blackmun was created in May 1969, when Justice Abe Fortas resigned under threat of impeachment for financial irregularities, an episode that began the modern era of Supreme Court confirmation clashes. Since then, the average wait for Senate action has been about 60 days.
The white dot shows how long Garland waited before his nomination expired.
*Declined/not confirmed includes justices who were confirmed but declined to serve, as well as postponed and withdrawn nominations. Since 1789, only three nominees received no Senate action and were never re-nominated, the most recent being in 1866.
Source: U.S. Senate
By Travis Hartman and Joan Biskupic | REUTERS GRAPHICS