Return to: Search Page or to: Table of Contents Vol. 11, issue 5

Lisa A. Solowiej, Wendy L. Martinek and Thomas L. Brunell, "Partisan Politics: The Impact of Party in the Confirmation of Minority and Female Federal Court Nominees," Party Politics, 11 (September, 2005), 557-577.

First Paragraph:
Peltason's observation that 'the decision as to who will make the decisions affects what decisions will be made' (1955: 29) brings the practical consequences of representation into sharp focus. One key dimension of representation is the extent to which representatives and those they represent share similar backgrounds &endash; what Pitkin (1967) refers to as descriptive representation.1 Students of the courts have devoted considerable resources to understanding descriptive representation on the bench, as evidenced by the voluminous literature regarding the juxtaposition of race and gender and the judiciary.2 Recent political controversy and media attention has centered on the effects of the race and gender of nominees to the lower federal bench on the senatorial confirmation process. Surprisingly, while scholarly studies of the lower federal court confirmation process now constitute a veritable cottage industry, very few have explicitly considered the role of the race and gender of nominees (Bell, 2002a; Hartley, 2001; Martinek et al., 2002; Nixon and Goss, 2001) and none have considered these characteristics in light of the different incentive structures the two major American political parties face.

Figures and Tables:
Table 1. Confirmation duration by minority status and divided government control
Table 2. Confirmation duration by gender and divided government control
Table 3. Cox Proportional Hazards model of confirmation duration

Next to Last Paragraph:
Specifically, we suggested that differences in the supporters of each of the two major American political parties, particularly the differential levels of support enjoyed by the Democratic Party from minorities and women as well as the Republican Party's desire to shed its reputation as being less sensitive to issues of importance to minorities and women, translates into different incentives for the handling of minority and female nominees. These incentives, however, are structured by conditions of unified versus divided government and partisan control of the Senate. We expected that the nominations of minorities and women would be handled most expeditiously under conditions of unified Republican control, followed by unified Democratic control, divided control with a Republican president, and, finally, divided control with a Democratic president. The results of our empirical tests suggest that, indeed, women are most advantaged under conditions of unified Republican control and most disadvantaged under conditions of divided control with a Democratic president. With regard to minorities, however, we found such nominees to be disadvantaged when nominated by a Democratic president facing a Republican-controlled Senate and even more disadvantaged when nominated under conditions of unified Republican control. Considered collectively, these findings provide strong support for the notion that the race and gender of nominees can have the potential to shape the confirmation process in important ways but that effect is, at least in part, a conditional one dependent upon partisan politics and partisan control of government.