The death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, known by many as RBG, left the Supreme Court with a vacancy only weeks before the presidential election in November.

For weeks, Democrats and Republicans have been locked in fierce debate. While Republicans rush to push through their nominee, Democrats claim a breach of protocol and demand that the nomination be delayed until after the election. 

President Trump selected Judge Amy Coney Barrett to succeed Justice Ginsburg and was confirmed by a 52-48 Senate vote. 

How are appointments made to the U.S. Supreme Court? Here’s what to know about the process of Supreme Court nominations and why it matters.

Step one: Selecting a nominee

To begin the process, the president consults with senators before creating a list of favored candidates. Then, the president announces the official nominee.

Step two: Examining the nominee’s background

The president’s nomination gets sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee for an intensive hearing to decide whether to recommend the nominee or not. While the nominee prepares for the hearing, the FBI submits a background check and the committee conducts its own background investigation.

For the hearing, the nominee must answer an in-depth questionnaire that will be examined by the Senate. The questionnaire — which is often hundreds of pages long — includes having the nominee list all clients they have represented, sources of income, speaking fees, interviews with media sources, official writings, and more. 

Step three: The Senate Judiciary Committee hearing 

During the hearing, the committee will hear testimony from both sides — supporting and opposing the nomination. The senators will then question the nominee to learn more about how their views might apply to crucial issues. The questioning will span three to four days and include examining the nominee’s qualifications, judgment, and overall political philosophy.

After the hearing, the committee will vote on whether to send its recommendation to the entire Senate who can vote to confirm or reject the nominee. In rare cases, they may offer no recommendation.

Technically, a majority is enough to move the nomination. However, by legal tradition, even if the committee rejects the nominee, the nomination will be sent forward for decision by the Senate.

Step four: Debating the nomination in the Senate

Once the nomination reaches the Senate floor, senators debate the nomination for as long as it takes to reach a majority — 51 votes out of 100. If there is a tie, the vice president casts the deciding vote.

Why does the nomination matter?

Judge Barrett is the fifth woman ever to serve on the Supreme Court. She is also the youngest member of the current court and President Trump’s third appointee in his first term. 

The Supreme Court is scheduled to debate the Affordable Care Act and Roe v. Wade. With justices serving for life, a conservative majority could change the face of U.S. politics for decades to come.

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