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Strategic Selection

Presidential Nomination of Supreme Court Justices from Herbert Hoover through George W. Bush
Christine L. Nemacheck

BUY Cloth · 192 pp. · 5.5 × 8.5 · ISBN 9780813926148 · $38.50 · Mar 2007
BUY Paper · 192 pp. · 5.5 × 8.5 · ISBN 9780813927435 · $21.50 · May 2008

The process by which presidents decide whom to nominate to fill Supreme Court vacancies is obviously of far-ranging importance, particularly because the vast majority of nominees are eventually confirmed. But why is one individual selected from among a pool of presumably qualified candidates? In Strategic Selection: Presidential Nomination of Supreme Court Justices from Herbert Hoover through George W. Bush, Christine Nemacheck makes heavy use of presidential papers to reconstruct the politics of nominee selection from Herbert Hoover’s appointment of Charles Evan Hughes in 1930 through President George W. Bush’s nomination of Samuel Alito in 2005. Bringing to light firsthand evidence of selection politics and of the influence of political actors, such as members of Congress and presidential advisors, from the initial stages of formulating a short list through the president’s final selection of a nominee, Nemacheck constructs a theoretical framework that allows her to assess the factors impacting a president’s selection process.

Much work on Supreme Court nominations focuses on struggles over confirmation, or is heavily based on anecdotal material and posits the "idiosyncratic" nature of the selection process; in contrast, Strategic Selection points to systematic patterns in judicial selection. Nemacheck argues that although presidents try to maximize their ideological preferences and minimize uncertainty about nominees’ conduct once they are confirmed, institutional factors that change over time, such as divided government and the institutionalism of the presidency, shape and constrain their choices. By revealing the pattern of strategic action, which she argues is visible from the earliest stages of the selection process, Nemacheck takes us a long way toward understanding this critically important part of our political system.


"Nemacheck... gives a rigorously tested, ambitiously comprehensive study that is a valuable contribution to president–Court studies."—Choice


Digging deep into the archival records of presidents from Herbert Hoover to George W. Bush, Christine Nemacheck has produced a creative, fascinating, and insightful treatment of how presidents select their Supreme Court nominees. Nemacheck is the first to offer a systematic investigation of the political and institutional dynamics that underlie the White House’s selection of nominees for the Court. Her account is historically nuanced and analytically sharp—a must-read for anyone who cares about the past and future of the nation’s highest court.

Sarah A. Binder, The Brookings Institution

Strategic Selection is essential reading for anyone with an interest in the selection of Supreme Court justices. Professor Nemacheck extensively mines the presidential papers of ten presidents and draws on them to provide numerous fascinating examples.... This is a book to savor—a wonderful achievement!

Sheldon Goldman, University of Massachusetts Amherst

Strategic Selectionis full of interesting stories about how presidents select nominees, but rather than these stories’ being the goal of Nemacheck’s analysis, they are used to motivate a more systematic and analytical understanding of the president’s choice. In reading this book we learn not only who is on each president’s short list but also how presidents develop these lists, what role Congress plays in that process, and what factors impel presidents to choose one nominee rather than others. The result is one of the best books on the selection of Supreme Court nominees that I’ve read.

Charles R. Shipan, University of Michigan

About the Author(s): 

Christine L. Nemacheck is Assistant Professor in the Department of Government at the College of William and Mary.

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