The confirmation process allows Congress to approve or reject the president's appointments to ambassadorships, the Cabinet, the Supreme Court and many other positions. The U.S.Constitution, by requiring that the Senate provide "advice and consent" for such appointments, provides the legislative branch a way of restraining the power of the executive branch of government. However, in the modern era concerns have been expressed about the delays and prolonged vacancies caused by the confirmation process.
Congressional confirmation of certain presidential appointments is required by the Constitution of the United States. Article II, section 2 indicates that the president, "by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the supreme Court" and other officials. This rule is one of the checks and balances in the Constitution that ensure that no single branch of government becomes too powerful. In particular, the confirmation requirement is meant to prevent corruption in the appointment process and to ensure that the most qualified individuals are appointed to positions in the national government.
The confirmation process begins when the president sends the name of the nominated person to Congress. Next the individual must fill out several forms, providing information about family members, places of residence and investments. Subsequently, a Senate committee considers the nomination. Many nominations are processed without hearings but key nominations -- such as Cabinet appointments -- involve a public hearing of the Senate committee, where the nominee is required to answer questions. Finally, the whole Senate votes on the appointment. A simple majority vote is required to confirm the appointment. If the Senate votes against the nomination, the president must nominate another person for the position.
Criticisms of Current Confirmation Process
Many criticisms have been made of recent developments in the confirmation process. The Brookings Institute claims that the process currently results in "long delays in staffing, continual administrative vacancies, efforts to circumvent congressional confirmation, and a reluctance on the part of many talented citizens to serve in the national government." The forms that a nominee to a key position is expected to fill out require information such as his or her ancestry and family members, financial investments, names and contact information for every place of residence in the previous 15 years and any data from the person's history that could cause embarrassment to the president. Nominees have complained that filling out these forms can be very time-consuming. It involves searching through personal records and obtaining the assistance of an accountant or financial adviser. A particular concern is that the slowness of the confirmation process during a presidential transition delays the staffing of the new president's administration.
Effectiveness of Congressional Confirmation Process
There is no doubt that the Senate's "advice and consent" power concerning presidential appointments places an effective check upon the power of the executive branch and prevents corrupt appointments. So, in instituting this rule, the framers of the Constitution achieved their objective of creating checks and balances between the three branches of government. However, some experts feel that the confirmation process creates significant problems by preventing the president from staffing important positions in a timely manner. Several suggestions have been made for improving the process, including reducing the amount of paperwork and cutting down on the number of presidential appointments requiring Senate confirmation.
- Slate: Senate Confirmation FAQ
- Government Executive: Congress Votes to Streamline Senate Confirmation Process
- Brookings Institution: Our Tottering Confirmation Process
- National Archives: Transcript of the Constitution of the United States
- U.S. Senate: Congressional Research Office -- Senate Consideration of Presidential Nominations
John P. Moore has been writing about the intersection between faith and culture since 1997. His articles have appeared in both religious and mainstream publications, including the "Ottawa Citizen" and the "Montreal Gazette". He received a Bachelor of Arts in English and a Masters of Theology from the University of Toronto.