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January 12, 2012
Content Analysis of SCOTUS Confirmation Hearings: Nominee Candor from Harlan to Kagan
In their recent SCOTUSblog post, Dion Farganis and Justin Wedeking explain the context for their recent article, “No Hints, No Forecasts, No Previews”: An Empirical Analysis of Supreme Court Nominee Candor from Harlan to Kagan, 45 Law & Society Review 525 (2011):
According to the prevailing wisdom, today’s nominees are more reluctant to answer questions during their Senate testimony, and the hearings have suffered as a result. ... Have nominees really become less forthcoming in recent years? Previous studies of Supreme Court confirmation hearings have focused on changes in the topics of the questions that senators ask. But to date, there has been no systematic analysis of how nominees respond to those questions. Therefore, while it is possible that things have gone rapidly downhill since Bork, as the conventional wisdom suggests, the evidence supporting this view has been largely anecdotal.
Farganis and Wedeking provide a content analysis of every Supreme Court confirmation hearing transcript since 1955, the year that the proceedings became a regular part of the confirmation process.
For each hearing, we coded all of the exchanges between a senator and the nominee, recording things such as the type of question asked, the degree to which the answer was forthcoming, and the reasons nominees gave for not answering more fully. Using this original dataset – nearly 11,000 exchanges in total – we then tested a series of hypotheses about nominee responsiveness in the face of Senate questioning.
For the findings of the study, see Farganis and Wedeking's article, “No Hints, No Forecasts, No Previews”: An Empirical Analysis of Supreme Court Nominee Candor from Harlan to Kagan. Recommended. [JH]