The influence of the Senate in matters of appointment developed by fits and starts, and reflected both policy and political concerns. Historically, presidents have enjoyed great success in winning support for their nominees, but on occasion, tensions have surfaced. As President, James Madison was confronted by cliques in the Senate that frequently interfered with his administration. John Tyler and Ulysses S. Grant faced similar challenges. In fact, four of Tyler’s nominees to the cabinet and four of his nominees to the Supreme Court, were rejected by the Senate, marking him as the least successful President in securing advice and consent for their nominees. In the last year of their respective administrations, Presidents Nixon and Reagan were frustrated by efforts to secure conformation of their nominees.
Many of the contentious Senate hearings stemmed from the effects of Divided Government, beginning, particularly, in the 1970s. Efforts of Senators to exert leverage over administration policy often reflected ideological and political differences. In the 1980s, for example, Senator Jesse Helms, an arch- conservative from North Carolina, often held up nominations made by President Reagan to posts at the State Department and other foreign policy agencies, even though both were Republicans. Helms’ opposition was less about individuals than administration policies with which he disagreed.
Historically, some of the most contentious confirmation hearings have involved Supreme Court nominations. Opposition to Louis Brandeis in 1915 or Robert Bork in 1987, represent perhaps the two most heated confirmation hearings that Americans have witnessed. Brandeis was approved by the Senate, but only after a nine-month trial by fire; Bork was defeated only after four months of what, at times, was a brutal process. Both faced stern ideological opposition, and political concerns were expressed with bare knuckles. For some in the Senate, Brandeis was too far to the Left; for others, Bork was too far to the Right. As the first Jewish nominee for a seat on the Court, Brandeis also was the victim of widespread anti-semitism. At any rate, the Senate was exercising its constitutional power to review the credentials of nominees who, if found wanting, would face a difficult, even arduous confirmation process.