The appointment of a Supreme Court Justice is an event of major significance in American politics. Each appointment is of consequence because of the enormous judicial power the Supreme Court exercises as the highest appellate court in the federal judiciary. To receive appointment to the Court, a candidate must first be nominated by the President and then confirmed by the Senate. Although not mentioned in the Constitution, an important role is played midway in the process (after the President selects, but before the Senate considers) by the Senate Judiciary Committee. Specifically, the Judiciary Committee, rather than the Senate as a whole, assumes the principal responsibility for investigating the background and qualifications of each Supreme Court nominee, and typically the committee conducts a close, intensive investigation of each nominee.
Since the late 1960s, the Judiciary Committee’s consideration of a Supreme Court nominee almost always has consisted of three distinct stages — (1) a pre-hearing investigative stage, followed by (2) public hearings, and concluding with (3) a committee decision on what recommendation to make to the full Senate…..