How Uncertainty About Judicial Nominees Can Distort the Confirmation Process


Sen, Maya, and William Spaniel. 2017. “How Uncertainty About Judicial Nominees Can Distort the Confirmation Process.” Journal of Theoretical Politics 29 (1): 22-47. Copy at


Judicial nominees to federal courts rarely reveal their genuine views on controversial issues. As a result, political actors---and especially the Senate---often have only partial information about how a nominee would vote on issues likely to come before the courts. We formulate a model that departs from the previous literature by incorporating this type of uncertainty into the nominations process. Our model shows that the absence of such information can yield suboptimal outcomes. In particular, when the President and Senate are ideologically divergent, low information about nominees' views results in the Senate occasionally rejecting acceptable nominees. Thus, even though low information allows the President to ``sneak in" more extreme candidates, it leads to both the President and the Senate being worse off than they would be with more transparency. Under such conditions, more information weakly increases both sides' welfare. Our results therefore raise questions about why nominees are permitted to keep important views private.

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Last updated on 02/14/2017