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Abstract

Since the appointment of John M. Harlan II in 1955, every Supreme Court nominee has testified in a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. These hearings provide a fertile ground for senator ideologies, partisanship, and political forces to be on full display. However, little research has systematically analyzed confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominees. In this paper, quantitative sentiment analysis is used on the transcripts of Supreme Court confirmation hearings between 1969 and 2018. By leveraging sentiment analysis, the attitudes of each of the senators during the hearings can be measured. Investigating the correlative impact that variables at the senator, institution, and nomination levels have on sentiment creates a better understanding of the factors that may influence a senator’s attitude during the hearings. A positive correlative effect on sentiment was found with an increase in the percentage of the vote the nominating president received during his most recent election in the senator’s home state. A positive correlation was also found when the nominating president and a senator were members of the same political party. Additionally, a statistically significant negative correlation was measured when the departing justice was a swing voter and when the hearing was aired on television. This research points to new avenues for using textual data to study partisanship and ideological polarization.

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