The Politics of Appointment and the Federal Courts’Role in Regulating America: U.S. Courts of Appeals Judgeships from T.R. to F.D.R.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Historians and political scientists have noted that appointments of judges to the U.S. Courts of Appeals are not determined by senatorial courtesy alone. What has not been adequately explained is why and when a president defers to a senator's choice rather than seek to control the selection. This article attempts to understand the politics of federal appellate court appointments. The author first identifies a major change in the work of the courts of appeals during the years 1900‐1945—the growth in review of the actions of newly created federal regulatory agencies. Then, by examining Justice Department files and presidential correspondence, he discoveres three patterns of appointment emerging in the same period. The patterns vary with presidential perceptions of the role of the federal government and of the courts of appeals' ability to affect accomplishment of administration goals. Appointments during the first years of the presidencies of Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt and during the Harding and Coolidge administrations were dominated by patronage concerns. Those administrations yielded to the recommendations of senators and demonstrated no interest in the policy‐making potential of these courts. In the two other patterns the White House played a more active role, with senators more often deferring to the president's selection. Concerns about professionalism dominated selections in Taft's and Hoover's administrations: because they recognized the policy importance of those judgeships but saw the role of government as limited, they sought judicial craftsmen who would make policy only incrementally. Policy concerns dominated selections during Wilson's administration and the latter years of both the Roosevelts' administrations: Justice Department officials screened nominees to determine their policy orientation, because federal appellate court judgeships were perceived as crucial policy positions that could affect the president's ability to implement his reform programs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)285-343
Number of pages59
JournalLaw & Social Inquiry
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1984
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Sciences(all)
  • Law


Dive into the research topics of 'The Politics of Appointment and the Federal Courts’Role in Regulating America: U.S. Courts of Appeals Judgeships from T.R. to F.D.R.'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this