What are Senate Confirmation Hearings?

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  • Written By: Phil Shepley
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
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  • Last Modified Date: 14 September 2019
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The President of the United States must appoint over 2000 high-ranking government positions in the Cabinet and also in other independent agencies of the government. It is up to the Senate to confirm or deny these appointments through what is known as Senate confirmation hearings.

Some of the major positions that the Senate validates through these hearings include Supreme Court justices, Cabinet secretaries, ambassadors, Federal judges, U.S. attorneys, U.S. marshals and members of regulatory commissions. Of all of these positions, the Supreme Court Justices and the Cabinet secretaries usually are reviewed under the closest scrutiny. Senate confirmation hearings are usually open to the public in order to give the opportunity to the government to determine whether or not a nominee of one of these positions is fit for his or her post.

The process for Senate confirmation hearings usually follows several steps. In the first of these, the President must submit a nominee to the Senate in writing. Unless the Senate unanimously votes to consent to it, the nominee is usually not voted upon the same day that the nomination is received. In the Senate, there are many committees, and in the next step, one or several of the appropriate committees related to the nominee’s position has the opportunity to examine his or her nomination by questioning the nominee or by conducting their own investigation. The Senators themselves often take advantage of the Senate confirmation hearings and use them to broadcast their own opinions on public policy issues.


After their investigations and questioning of the President’s nominees, each committee can report the nomination favorably, unfavorably, without recommendation, or they also have the option to take no action at all. In the next step of the Senate confirmation hearings, the Senate meets in executive session for the purpose of considering whether or not to confirm the nominees, who can be subjected to unlimited debate. Ultimately, the Senate must decide upon one of three options regarding the nominee: they must confirm, reject or take no action on the nomination. All that is required for a nomination is a simple majority vote.

In the final step of Senate confirmation hearings, the President is notified on whether his or her nominee has been confirmed or rejected. The Senate also posts this information on its website along with details on whether nominations are pending, confirmed, withdrawn, failed or returned. Nonpolitical appointments and promotions in the military as well as other civilian positions can also be approved and rejected through Senate confirmation hearings.


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