Presidential Nominations

This is the second of a three-part series on federal agency vacancies, nominations, and Senate confirmations.

Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution grants the President the power to appoint a number of positions including:

  • Ambassadors;
  • Federal judges, including Supreme Court Justices;
  • Cabinet members/federal department heads; and
  • Other specified positions within the federal government, including certain military posts, officers within cabinet and independent agencies, other positions within the Foreign Service and uniformed civilian services, U.S. attorneys, and U.S. marshals.

The President now appoints more than 300 positions within the 14 cabinet agencies and more than 100 positions in independent and other agencies (the Central Intelligence Agency, National Labor Relations Board, National Science Foundation, Securities and Exchange Commission, etc.). Each session of Congress, approximately 4,000 civilian and 65,000 military nominations are submitted by the President.

For most Presidential appointment with Senate confirmation (PAS) positions, the term of service ends with the term of the appointing President. Some independent agency positions have fixed terms and Supreme Court justices are nominated for life.

Once the President makes a nomination to a one of these positions, the nominee must be confirmed by the Senate. The Constitution gives the Senate sole approval power for Presidential nominations. Presidential nominations must be acted upon within the same Congress (two-year period) in which they are nominated otherwise the nomination “dies,” as do bills at the end of a Congress.

Following the President’s announcement of a nomination, high-profile nominees (Supreme Court nominees, Cabinet Secretary nominees) generally make the rounds on Capitol Hill prior to their confirmation hearing. Some nominees may meet with just Senate leadership and Members on relevant committees while others, depending on how controversial their nomination is seen, may attempt to meet with nearly all 100 Senators. When Sonia Sotomayor was nominated to the Supreme Court in 2009, she met with a large number of Senators; in contrast, Senator John Kerry, who was recently nominated to serve as Secretary of State, did not hold as many formal meetings during his nomination and confirmation process. During this time, Senators also review the nominee’s background and credentials in preparation for a hearing and vote.

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