Reaching Out: Understanding the Puzzle of Cross-Party Nominations to the Lower United States Federal Courts

Aman McLeod


Scholars have argued that U.S. presidents use their judicial appointments to advance their political goals. However, on rare occasions, presidents nominate people who are not members of their political party to the judiciary. This study will examine the factors that affect the probability of a cross-party judicial nomination occurring, in order to better understand the goals that presidents are seeking to advance through these unusual actions. Looking at nominations to United States federal circuit courts and district courts between 1977 through 2004, the study finds that, controlling for a number of relevant factors, a greater number of opposition senators from a state and a higher level of electoral competition between the Republican and Democratic parties in a state increase the probability that a president will name someone from outside of his party from that state to a federal court vacancy. The findings support the hypothesis that presidents make cross-party judicial nominations to further their partisan electoral objectives, and as a response to institutional pressure from opposition senators through the use of Senate rules.

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Journal of Politics and Law ISSN 1913-9047 (Print) ISSN 1913-9055 (Online)  Email:

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