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Confirmation hearings, then and now

For members of the Senate Judiciary Committee -- and for many of the veteran journalists squeezed into the Hart Senate Office Building today -- the Kagan hearing is proceeding pretty much like other confirmation debates always have. If anything, the only difference so far is that there are a few less fireworks this time around (so far, at least).

But this hearing would seem very foreign to a lawmaker or reporter who worked on Capitol Hill 75 years ago. For starters, nominees haven't always been required to testify in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee. The first hearings at which a Supreme Court nominee actually testified in person were Justice Harlan Stone's in 1925.

Confirmation hearings also haven't always been open to the public. They regularly held behind closed doors until the 1940s.
The first hearings to be broadcast in total on C-SPAN were Sandra Day O'Connor's in 1981.

The entire confirmation process also takes much longer in the modern era than it did early in the nation's history. According to the Congressional Research Service, between 1789 and 1966, it took a Supreme Court nominee about 10 days to be confirmed once his nomination had been received by the Senate. Between 1966 and now? Seven times as long -- a median of 69 days.