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Federal Judicial Selection

Federal Judicial Nominating Commissions

In 1974, Florida’s U.S. senators became the first to establish a nominating commission to recruit and recommend candidates for federal district court judgeships. Between 1976 and 1979, senators in 29 other states established 30 ad hoc or permanent district judge nominating commissions, and in 1977 President Carter established by executive order the U.S. Circuit Judge Nominating Commission. For more information on the structures and processes of these commissions, see Breaking with tradition: A study of the U.S. district judge nominating commissions and A study of the U.S. Circuit Judge Nominating Commission: Findings, conclusions and recommendations.

Today, senators in several states--California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin--use nominating commissions to screen candidates for federal court vacancies. Similar screening processes have been adopted in other states as well. In Virginia, for example, senators ask state bar associations to submit recommendations for federal judicial vacancies. In Alabama, both the state Democratic Party and a Democratic congressman have established screening committees for filling federal judgeships. In Georgia, the Democratic congressional delegation has selected a twelve-member panel to recommend nominees for the state's federal vacancies, and a similar commission is being established by the Democratic congressman from Maine. The D.C. delegate has reestablished a nominating commission for the District's federal bench as well.

These commissions have traditionally been known as "nominating commissions," but their role is different than that of the judicial nominating commissions that operate in two thirds of the states for state judgeships. While state commissions recommend (or nominate) a short list of candidates directly to the appointing authority, federal commissions submit candidates to U.S. senators, who may then forward their names to the president for possible nomination. While these entities are still referred to as nominating commissions by some senators, in many states they are called screening panels or advisory committees.


  • Senator Richard Shelby does not use a judicial nominating commission.
  • Senator Jeff Sessions does not use a judicial nominating commission.
With two Republican U.S. Senators, leading state Democrats established their own processes to screen candidates for federal appointments in late 2008. U.S Representative Artur Davis, the senior Democrat in the state's congressional delegation, selected a panel of two Alabama law school deans and five current or former judges to recommend candidates to become federal judges and prosecutors. The Alabama Democratic Party formed a similar commission. Click here to read more about the two screening processes.