The U.S. Supreme Court has had eight justicesserving on it since Associate Justice Antonin Scaliadied suddenly last February. Four of these justiceswere appointed by Republican presidents. Four wereappointed by Democratic presidents. So, on divisivecases, you can see how a 4-4 split could hamperthe court's decision making process.
Last March, then-President Barack Obama, a Democrat, nominated a U.S. Appeals Court judgenamed Merrick Garland to replace Justice Scalia. But Republicans who controlled the Senateargued that the next U.S. president should appoint Scalia's replacement. And they did notgive Judge Garland a hearing.
With the new U.S. leader now in place, a new nominee has been named. Tuesday night,President Donald Trump announced that Neil Gorsuch, a U.S. Appeals Court judge, was hispick to fill Scalia's seat on the high court. The 49-year-old Judge Gorsuch is considered to be aconservative jurist, like Scalia. The nominee studied at Columbia, Harvard and OxfordUniversities and President Trump says his qualifications are beyond dispute.
But House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi described Gorsuch as a hostile appointment, who'soutside the American mainstream.
Experts say Gorsuch is still likely to join the Supreme Court bench. His Senate confirmationhearings are set to begin in six weeks.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Federal judges, including Supreme Courtjustices, serve for life. That's why presidents regard these judicial appointments as such animportant way to extend their own legacies.
SUBTITLE: Selecting Supreme Court justices.
Steps to becoming a Supreme Court justice:
Secure a presidential nomination. Sit before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Receiveconfirmation by a Senate vote.
TOOBIN: The Constitution does not set out a resume that a Supreme Court justice has tohave. There's no requirement in the Constitution that a Supreme Court justice even be alawyer. But traditionally, presidents have nominated impeccably qualified sitting judges.
Both presidents and senators like to say that the confirmation process is all aboutqualifications. But it's really also about politics. Virtually, every important issue in Americanpolitics and even American life winds up in front of the Supreme Court, and they have the lastword. Both the president and the senators trying to figure out how the nominee's stance onthe hot-button issues that the Supreme Court deals with and that's why the senators will voteyes or not.
The Supreme Court is designed to operate with nine justices. What makes Justice Scalia'sdeath so unusual in Supreme Court history is that most justices announce that they plan toretire and then a president nominates their successor. So, there is no vacancy at any point inthe Supreme Court. With eight justices, there are possibilities for tie votes, which can create asignificant amount of confusion in the law.