Lee Epstein
Lee Epsteing Ethan A.H. Shepley Distinguished University Professor
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Published in May 2006. Journal of Politics 68 (2): 296-307.

Lee Epstein
Rene Lindstadt
Jeffrey A. Segal
Chad Westerland

A near-universal consensus exists that the nomination of Robert Bork in 1987 triggered a new regime in the Senate's voting over presidential nominees—a regime that de-emphasizes ethics, competence, and integrity and stresses instead politics, philosophy, and ideology. Nonetheless, this conventional wisdom remains largely untested.

In this article we explore the extent to which the Bork nomination has affected the decisions of U.S. senators. To do so, we modernize, update, and backdate the standard account of confirmation politics offered by Cameron, Cover, and Segal (1990) to cover all candidates for the Supreme Court from Hugo Black in 1937 through John Roberts in 2005.

Our results confirm conventional wisdom about the Bork nomination but with two notable caveats. First, while the importance of ideology has reached new heights, the Senate's emphasis on this factor had its genesis some three decades earlier, in the 1950s. Second, while ideology is of paramount concern to senators, a candidate's professional merit also remains a significant determinant of success in the Senate.

Click here for the article (.pdf)
Click here for the data (Stata .dta file) (posted on December 23, 2005)
Click here for an updated dataset (Stata .dta file) (posted on September 1, 2008)
Click here for an updated and corrected* dataset (Stata .dta file) (posted on September 24, 2008)
(* The Segal-Cover ideology score for Thomas was incorrectly entered as .15; it is .16.)
Click here for an updated and corrected* dataset (Stata .dta file) (posted on September 9, 2011)
Click here for the most recent dataset (Stata .dta file) (posted on July 28, 2014)
(Some Senator id numbers corrected. Thanks to L.J Zigerell)

Click on the titles below for the web sites of related projects:

Advice and Consent: The Politics of Judicial Appointments
On Tournaments for Appointing Great Justices to the U.S. Supreme Court
The Role of Qualifications in Confirmation of Nominees to the U.S. Supreme Court