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The Confirmation Process for Supreme Court Nominees

Now that President Bush has announced his choice for the next Supreme Court justice, interest groups are lobbying for and against the confirmation of John Roberts.

Judge John G. Roberts, Jr.
His nomination is no guarantee he will be sworn in, for nominees must be approved by two-thirds of the Senate.

It is considered a political, not a personal matter, because a president can make the court more conservative or liberal for years to come, as justices are appointed for life.

As President Bush said, "One of the most consequential decisions a president makes is his appointment of a Justice to the Supreme Court. When a president chooses a Justice, he is placing in human hands the authority and majesty of the Law."

The Supreme Court was created in 1789 by the U.S. Constitution as one of three branches of government. Initially, the court was the weakest of the three branches of government because its duties were not specifically outlined in the Constitution. That changed in 1801 when John Marshall became Chief Justice.

In a landmark case, Marbury versus Madison, the Supreme Court established its power to determine the constitutionality of laws passed by Congress and the state legislatures.

George Washington University Professor Mary Cheh says the court's authority is unique. "Few countries have a situation as strong as ours, where a majority of the Supreme Court can, in interpreting the Constitution -- and there are wide varieties of ways to interpret it say that an act of any other branch of the government is unconstitutional."

In its entire history, the Supreme Court has had only 16 Chief Justices, and 108 Associate Justices. Justices serve until they retire, die or are impeached. So not every president has the chance to select a nominee. Once selected, nominees face questioning by the Senate members, after which they are either confirmed or rejected.

In the past, the Supreme Court has ruled on some of the United States' most divisive social questions, including abortion, the death penalty and civil rights.

Presidents have chosen nominees on the basis of how they think that person will vote, hoping to swing the court's decisions in favor of their ideology.

Justice Sandra Day O'Connor was appointed by Republican President Ronald Reagan for her conservative views, but her opinions, while narrowly defined, were often more centrist than conservative.

Nominees have often surprised and disappointed presidents with their rulings.

Based on his opinions as a lower court judge and cases he has argued before these as an attorney, Judge Roberts is considered very conservative. Some members of the opposition Democratic Party may try to prevent his confirmation. If he is confirmed, President Bush will have to see if he has appointed the true conservative he hoped for.