Quarterly Journal of Political Science > Vol 14 > Issue 4

Presidential Selection of Supreme Court Nominees: The Characteristics Approach

Charles M. Cameron, Department of Politics & Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University, USA, ccameron@princeton.edu , Jonathan P. Kastellec, Department of Politics, Princeton University, USA, jkastell@princeton.edu , Lauren A. Mattioli, Department of Political Science, Boston University, USA, lamattio@bu.edu
Suggested Citation
Charles M. Cameron, Jonathan P. Kastellec and Lauren A. Mattioli (2019), "Presidential Selection of Supreme Court Nominees: The Characteristics Approach", Quarterly Journal of Political Science: Vol. 14: No. 4, pp 439-474. http://dx.doi.org/10.1561/100.00018191

Publication Date: 10 Oct 2019
© 2019 C. M. Cameron, J. P. Kastellec and L. A. Mattioli
Law and economics,  Choice modeling,  Bureaucracy,  Courts,  Executive politics,  Formal modelling,  Judiciary,  Political history,  Presidential politics
Supreme Court nominationsexecutive appointmentsfederal judiciarySupreme Courtpresidential politicsnominee ideologynominee diversitynominee qualificationsSupreme Court short-listhistory of Supreme Court nominationsdemand for characteristics


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In this article:
The Model 
Data and Measures 
Using the Models to Interpret Changes in Selection Politics 


Despite the importance of every nomination to the Supreme Court, a unified theory that illuminates presidential selection of nominees across the modern political era remains elusive. We propose a new theory — the "characteristics approach" — that envisions nominees as bundles of characteristics, such as ideology, policy reliability, and attributes of diversity. We formalize the theory, which emphasizes the political returns to presidents from a nominee's characteristics and the "costs" of finding and confirming such individuals, and derive explicit presidential demand functions for these characteristics. Using newly collected data on both nominees and short list candidates, we estimate these demand functions. They reveal some striking and under-appreciated regularities in appointment politics. In particular, the substantial increase in presidential interest in the Supreme Court's policy output and the increased availability of potential justices with desired characteristics has led to significant changes in appointment politics and in the composition of the Court.