Was Justice Barret’s Nomination Quicker Than Normal?
Many have claimed that Barret’s nomination was rushed through ahead of the election. We look at historical nominations through the lens of statistics to analyze this question.
Justice Barret was sworn in ahead of the divided 2020 election leading many to believe that it was rushed. Her nomination took 27 days to complete while her predecessor’s nomination, Justice Kavanaugh, took 88 days.
We reviewed the duration of every Justice’s nomination process and calculated the number of days each took from nomination to confirmation. For each Justice, after the first, we assigned a normal number of days at that point in time that Justice’s nomination and all other previous Justice’s nominations took.
We initially considered a normal number to be a standard normal distribution. Under this method every single Justice was nominated in ‘normal’ time. Not a single Justice stood out. We felt this was an incorrect qualification. Certainly, some Justices had unusually long or short nomination durations. In order to help create some outliers we moved the number of standard deviations from three to two, and if few or no outliers existed at two, from two to one. We did this for the entire population of numbers over all history and the last nine (equal to the current Justices on the SCOTUS) confirmations relative to that particular Justice.
We found that, on the low limit for the last nine Justices, two standard deviations was enough to generate some outliers. On the high limit for the last nine Justices we needed to move down to a single standard deviation. Over all Justices we found that we needed to reduce the limits to one standard deviation.
We identified two ways to evaluate whether a Justice’s nomination was abnormally long or short using all Justices ever confirmed or the last nine Justices ever confirmed. Using all Justices confirmations as a benchmark 32 were unusually long and one was unusually short. Using the last nine confirmation durations we found that 23 were unusually long and 1 was unusually short.
We also evaluated the confirmations on a per party basis, to see if any particular party has historically been disadvantaged or received an advantage throughout the process. Creating our limits based on all justices we found that Republican nominated Justices took unusually long 34% of the time, with Democrat nominated Justices taking unusually long 22% of the time. No party received any benefit by way of a shorter nomination.
Limiting our criteria to the last nine Justices we find that Republican nominations took longer 19% of the time and Democrat nominations taking longer 22% of the time, nearly equal. Here we also found that Democrats benefited from a short confirmation one time or 2% of the time.
We looked back at each of the sitting Justices to see if their confirmations took longer or shorter than would be normal at the time of their. Of the current Justices we found that only one had an abnormally long confirmation, Justice Thomas.
We also looked back into recent history (1950 and later) and found 18 Justices with abnormally long confirmations, 14 Republicans and three Democrats.
Justice Barret’s confirmation took 27 days. The historical average for all Justices nominated is 23 days. At the time of her nomination the historical low limit is 0 with an average of 23 days and a standard deviation of 29 days. There is no such thing as a negative day which bring the low limit to 0 days. The high limit, historically among all Justices, is 52 days. We found that the confirmation process, over time, has begun to take longer and longer. Considering this, we prefer to review her 27 days against the last nine Justices’ confirmations. The high limit using this method was found to be 89 days. We found that the low limit was 18 days. For Justice Barrett’s confirmation to be abnormal it would have needed to be longer than 88 days or shorter than 18 days. Her confirmation is considered normal by mathematical standards.