When a Supreme Court Justice dies, how long before a new Justice is appointed per the law or the way that typically works (and a history reference of such an event for comparison)?

I hear this talk that it shouldn't be Obama or whatever (death of Antonin Scalia), so I'm trying to understand when a Justice dies, how long until a new one is typically appointed based on history of this sort of situation.

Specific Question

How long it does take the president to appoint a new Supreme Court Justice from the time of one's death, and is there any history for comparison of such a similar incident that has occurred in the past to compare this time frame with, etc.?

Reference: Obama will nominate Justice Scalia's successor in "due time"

  • What was the longest wait ever from death of a justice to confirmation of the replacement? Feb 15, 2016 at 23:01

2 Answers 2


If a Justice retires at the end of one term, it is typical for the replacement to be appointed by the beginning of the next term. That was true of the last two appointments, Kagan and Sotomayor. They were submitted in May and June respectively and both were confirmed in August. Terms run from October to April.

After Rehnquist died in 2005, he was replaced by Roberts who had been a potential O'Connor replacement. Bush then nominated first Harriet Miers and then Samuel Alito to replace O'Connor. That only took from September to January, so a replacement was serving within five months. Before that, the last was Robert Jackson in 1954 (citation). That process took from October to March.

We are currently past the middle of a term, with more than two months until the end. So if finding and vetting the Justice were all that was needed, there is plenty of time to appoint a Justice before the new term this fall.

It is unlikely that this will actually occur though. Republicans can drag out proceedings into next year and are likely to do so in the hope that a new Republican President can appoint a successor to Scalia.

Roll Call has an article about this which graphs the vacancy length for every appointment since 1902: http://blogs.rollcall.com/news/how-long-do-high-court-vacancies-usually-last/

  • This is a nice, thorough answer, but I have two quibbles with it: It's unclear that Jackson was the last to die in office before Rehnquist, and you miss the Fortas succession which looks to be the closest match to the current situation.
    – Bobson
    Feb 16, 2016 at 18:03

This is not a "typical" case, but the longest one I remember. Perhaps this is how it goes when the President and Senate are of opposite parties.

Justice Fortas resigned on May 15, 1969. Justice Blackmun, the replacement, was finally confirmed May 12, 1970. So in that case the time was 3 days short of a year. (In between, President Nixon also nominated Judges Haynsworth and Carswell, but both were rejected by the Senate.)

  • Per the link in the other answer, it's not just the longest one you remember, it's the longest one since 1900.
    – Bobson
    Feb 16, 2016 at 18:03

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