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Battle over the Bench

Senators, Interest Groups, and Lower Court Confirmations
Amy Steigerwalt

BUY Cloth · 272 pp. · 6.125 × 9.25 · ISBN 9780813929941 · $49.50 · Aug 2010
BUY Ebook · 272 pp. · ISBN 9780813929989 · $49.50 · Aug 2010

Who gets seated on the lower federal courts and why? Why are some nominees confirmed easily while others travel a long, hard road to confirmation? What role do senators and interest groups play in determining who will become a federal judge? The lower federal courts have increasingly become the final arbiters of the important political and social issues of the day. As a result, who gets seated on the bench has become a major political issue. In Battle over the Bench, Amy Steigerwalt argues that the key to understanding the dynamics of the lower court confirmation process is to examine the process itself. She offers a new analytic framework for understanding when nominations become contested, and shows when and how key actors can influence the fate of nominations and ultimately determine who will become a federal judge.

Given the increasing salience of lower court decisions, it is not surprising that interest groups and partisan agendas play an important role. Steigerwalt inventories the means by which senators push through or block nominations, and why interest groups decide to support or oppose certain nominations. The politics of judicial confirmations do not end there, however. Steigerwalt also reveals how many nominees are blocked for private political reasons that have nothing to do with ideology, while senators may use their support for or opposition to nominees as bargaining chips to garner votes for their positions on unrelated issues. Battle over the Bench showcases the complex and, at times, hidden motivations driving the staffing of the federal bench.


Battle over the Bench represents valuable research about an important and timely topic—the confirmation by the United States Senate of presidential nominations to the lower federal courts and why it matters. There are numerous important findings, and Steigerwalt’s book is, in my judgment, the most theoretically sophisticated book on lower court confirmations. She succeeds admirably in her goals. This is unquestionably a major addition to the literature.

Sheldon Goldman, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, author of Picking Federal Judges: Lower Court Selection from Roosevelt through Reagan

Steigerwalt uses elite interviews with Senate staffers, a former U.S. senator, and interest group leaders to examine how interest groups participate in lower court confirmation proceedings, why they participate, and whether their participation is seen as effective in the view of those in the Senate. The first-hand account provides new and important insight into the confirmation process and further illuminates our understanding of why some nominations move relatively quickly through to confirmation while others are delayed or even blocked altogether.

Christine L. Nemacheck, College of William and Mary, author of Strategic Selection: Presidential Nomination of Supreme Court Justices from Herbert Hoover through George W. Bush (Virginia)

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