How Supreme Court justices are selected

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President Obama nominates Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan.
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Understanding the Nomination & Appointment of Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan

In early April of 2010, Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens announced his plans for retirement from his esteemed position before the end of the 2010 summer.

This announcement sparked nationwide curiosity as to President Barack Obama's next supreme court justice selection. The announcement also re-ignited a national conversation pertaining to the power and purpose of The Supreme Court, as well as a look back at the incredible history of Supreme Court cases.  

The Supreme Court, considered to be the highest-ranking court in the United States, is a historic fixture of American democracy, first established by the U.S. Constitution. Supreme court justices who are elected for a life-long term, retain the right to resign or retire from the position at their will.

The Supreme Court is responsible for official legal decisions that often provide groundbreaking direction and and legal standards for court cases nationwide. The Supreme Court also has the power to overrule any legal decisions from any other court in the country, if those legal proceedings are called into question.

The tremendous political and legal power possessed by the Supreme Court make it imperative for American government leaders to wisely select highly qualified justices. Therefore, selecting and electing a supreme court justice is a complex process governed by a series of checks and balances.

A total of nice justices one chief justice and eight other associate justices make up the Supreme Court. The odd number of justices in the Supreme Court serves to prevent even ties during legal rulings. The odd number of votes ensures that legal cases are definitively answered by a Supreme Court ruling.

On the morning of August 5th, 2010, President Barack Obama confirmed native New Yorker Elena Kagan as the 112th Supreme Court justice, stepping in to fill the position of retiring Justice John Paul Stevens.  

Following the confirmation of Justice Elena Kagan, many prominent national news sources covered the story in detail, highlighting accomplishments from Elena's formidable career, as an acclaimed scholar of law and presidential adviser, as the first woman to serve as Dean of the Harvard Law School, and most recently as Solicitor General.

But how was Justice Elena Kagan elected, and what is the traditional process dictating supreme court justice selection?  The six basic steps are outlined below:

Understanding the Process of Supreme Court Justice Selection

1.  Step One:  Only the President of the United States of America has the authority to nominate an individual for the position of Supreme Court Justice.

2.  Step Two:  The President announces his Supreme Court nomination to the Senate.

3.  Step Three:  The nominee must complete an extensive series of interview with members of the Senate, known as the Senate Confirmation Hearings. The nominee is interviewed by a judiciary
committee consisting of eighteen senators, who review previous casework, qualifications, and question witnesses and references. The senate judiciary committee also requires extensive paperwork regarding personal history, finances and professional background.

4.  Step Four:  The FBI launches a comprehensive background search and investigation on the nominee.

5.  Step Five:  The judiciary committee votes to either confirm or reject the nominee.

6.  Step Six:  The full senate deliberates the nomination and ultimately votes on the Senate floor.  A majority vote, consisting of at least 51 votes in favor, is required to nominate the appointment. If the nominee is confirmed, the justice is appointed to the Supreme Court for life. If the nominee is rejected, the President selects another nominee and the entire process is repeated.

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