Supreme Court nomination battles
President Obama faces a Republican dominated Senate refusing to hold hearings on his most recent Supreme Court nominee, Appeals Court Judge Merrick B. Garland, in his final year in office -- not the first contentious nomination battle between the White House and Congress by a long shot. To date there have been 161 nominations to the highest court in the U.S. Only 12 of those nominees have been outright rejected, while others have withdrawn or had their confirmation postponed. Around half of the failed nominations happened in a president's final year in office; a larger percentage occur when one party does not control both the senate and the presidency.
The first rejection was President George Washington's nominee, John Rutledge, for Chief Justice in 1795, and the last was President Ronald Reagan's nominee for Associate Justice, Robert H. Bork in 1987.
Here's a look back at some of the most contentious nomination battles.
Robert Bork was nominated by President Ronald Reagan to the position of Associate Justice of the Supreme Court in 1987, but his confirmation was denied by the Senate. Liberals and civil rights activists were alarmed by his nomination and created an all-out campaign against Bork's confirmation. Bork was known for his controversial conservative legal writings, including an article expressing his opposition to the 1964 civil rights requiring businesses to serve people of all races and birth control.
Former President Gerald Ford, left, introduces Supreme Court Associate Justice nominee Robert Bork (C), as the Senate Judiciary Committee began confirmation hearings on Bork's nomination on Capitol Hill, Sept. 15, 1987. Ford praised Bork as being "uniquely qualified" for the post. At right is Sen. Robert Dole, R-KS, who also made a statement on Bork.
Robert Bork nomination
Despite public support for Bork's nomination the vote was 58 to 42 against him in the Senate. Many have identified his defeat as a watershed moment when ideological wars made the Supreme Court nominees' political views a clear battle ground.
Since his defeat, in large part by an intense pr campaign, a new verb came into vogue -- to "bork" someone or be "borked."
President Ronald and first lady Nancy Reagan walk past supporters of Robert Bork as they leave the White House in Washington on Oct. 9, 1987, en route to Camp David, Maryland.
Anita Hill & Clarence Thomas
Perhaps the most recent memorable and contentious Supreme Court nominee hearings was that of Clarence Thomas, nominated by President George H.W. Bush in 1991. Anita Hill, a law professor, submitted a confidential statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee alleging Thomas sexually harassed her ten years before. Initially, the committee did not pursue an investigation. The story broke due to a leak to the press, prompting Hill's graphic testimony on live TV.
Thomas categorically denied Anita Hill's accusations of sexual harassment and told a tense session of the committee, "confirm me if you want," but that "no job is worth" what he has been through. Thomas was confirmed by the smallest margin in history, 52 to 48.
At left, Anita Hill takes the oath October 12, 1991, before testifying in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee in Washington D.C.
At right, Judge Clarence Thomas during testimony.
Vice President Joe Biden, then chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, presided over the Clarence Thomas hearings and was criticized for not doing anything about the aggressive attacks on Hill and failing to call additional available witnesses.
The hearings were an explosive mix of race and sexual politics and created a national dialogue on sexual harassment.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Joe Biden points angrily at Clarence Thomas during comments at the end of hearings on Thomas' nomination, Oct. 12, 1991. Sen. Edward Kennedy looks on at right.
White House Chief Counsel Harriet Miers was nominated to the Supreme Court in 2005 by President George W. Bush, immediately prompting vehement criticism including charges of cronyism and lack of judicial experience, much of it coming from right-wing activists.
Twenty-five days after her nomination, Miers withdrew herself from consideration in the face of stiff opposition and mounting criticism about her qualifications. Conservative jurist Samuel Alito became the nominee and was confirmed by the senate.
Abe Fortas was already serving as Associate Supreme Court Justice when the senate declined to confirm him as Chief Justice in 1968, the first nominee for that post to fail to win approval since John Rutledge in 1795. He had been nominated by President Lyndon B. Johnson to succeed Earl Warren as Chief Justice.
Fortas found his nomination under threat from conservatives and criticism over a $15,000 speaking fee for a lecture at American University, paid for by around 40 companies. Conservatives filibustered the nomination and Fortas was forced to withdraw.
Fortas gained one other unfortunate distinction when, a year later, he became the first Supreme Court justice to resign over a threat of impeachment due to improper financial payments he received.
Abe Fortas (L) next to Sen. Ted Kennedy in Sept. 30, 1968 at topping out ceremonies at the John F. Kennedy center for the performing arts in Washington.
Judge Clement F. Haynsworth, a conservative Democrat from South Carolina, was nominated by President Richard Nixon in 1969. His financial dealings brought his nomination into question, having heard several cases in which he owned stock in the companies involved. He was also not popular with labor or civil rights organizations, which argued Haynsworth had exhibited biases against them in cases.
The judge was rejected 55 to 45. Seventeen of 43 Republicans broke ranks to vote against confirming the nomination.
Judge G. Harrold Carswell was nominated by President Richard Nixon in 1970, after the failed nomination of Haynsworth. It was a defiant choice -- Nixon was quoted as telling an aid, Harry S. Dent, "find a good federal judge farther to the south and further to the right." Nixon miscalculated thinking that Carswell's nomination would not pose a problem because the senate had not rejected two nominees in a row in 76 years.
The southerner with a constructionist view of the Constitution came under fire for what was described as his hostile civil rights record. The nominee endorsed segregation years earlier in a speech he made as "the only practical and correct way of life in our states" adding he had a "firm, vigorous belief in the principles of white supremacy."
Despite the uproar, Carswell made it through to a full vote by the senate, but was rejected 51 to 45 with 13 Republicans defecting.
Carswell sits at the witness table as the Senate Judiciary Committee open hearing, Jan. 27, 1970, Washington, D.C.
John J. Parker
Federal Judge John J. Parker was nominated to the Supreme Court by President Herbert Hoover on March 21, 1930.
The NAACP opposed his nomination after their investigation found he supported disenfranchising African Americans in his unsuccessful 1920 run for governor of North Carolina. The AFL also strongly opposed Parker ascending to the high court because of his support for "yellow dog" contracts, which forbid workers from participating in unions as a condition of employment.
His nomination failed by a super close margin, 41 to 39.
John Tyler's nominations
President John Tyler had an astoundingly difficult time getting his nominations to the Supreme Court approved. In the span of just 15 months between 1844 to 1845 he nominated five men a total of nine times -- Reuben H. Walworth, Edward King, John C. Spencer, Samuel Nelson and John Read.
Tyler only succeeded in getting Nelson onto the high court.
Even one of the founding fathers of the country, President George Washington, had to contend with a politically charged Supreme Court nomination process when his nominee, South Carolina Judge John Rutledge, was rejected on Dec. 15, 1795.
Rutledge had briefly served as an Associate Justice on the high court from 1789 to 1791, but did not attend any court sessions and resigned to serve as a judge in South Carolina. Later, Washington nominated Rutledge to replace Chief Justice John Jay.
The nominee had impeccable credentials as a member of the Continental Congress, the Stamp Act Congress, a delegate to the Constitutional Convention of 1787 as well as Governor of South Carolina. Rutledge, however, made the mistake of giving a speech attacking the Jay Treaty, an agreement the president and the senate supported for increased trade, as too pro-British.
In a highly unusual situation, the president's own party rejected the nomination after Washington made a recess appointment when the senate was not in session.
Lucius Q.C. Lamar
Lucius Q.C. Lamar served as Secretary of Interior in President Grover Cleveland's cabinet when he was nominated to the Supreme Court on Jan. 18, 1888. A Democrat from Mississippi, at issue in Lamar's confirmation was his age -- he was nominated at 63 years-old -- and his confederate background. The judiciary committee gave a negative recommendation, but Lamar was confirmed by the full senate. The bruising confirmation process highlighted deep-seated regional resentments.
Lamar served for five years on the high court, the first southerner since the Civil War. He is one of eight leaders written about in John F. Kennedy's Pulitzer-Price-winning book "Profiles in Courage." Lamar believed in compromise and reconciliation with the North.