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About the Senate & the U.S. Constitution | Advice and Consent: Nominations

[The president] shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States . . . . [U.S. Constitution, Article II, section 2, clause 2]

Debated over the course of several weeks, the Constitution’s proposed nomination clause split the delegates into two factions—those who wanted the executive to have the sole power of appointment, and those who wanted the national legislature, and more specifically the Senate, to have that responsibility. The latter faction followed precedents established by the Articles of Confederation and most of the state constitutions. These documents granted the Congress under the Articles of Confederation and the state legislatures the power to make appointments, while the Massachusetts constitution provided an alternative model. For over one hundred years, Massachusetts had divided the appointment responsibilities between its governor, who made the nominations, and its legislative council, which confirmed the appointments.

Delegates in favor of a strong executive argued that Senate appointments would lead to government by a “cabal,” swayed by the interests of constituents. Delegates who feared the power of monarchies, however, wanted to remove the president entirely from the appointment process. Initially, the delegates granted the president the power to appoint the officers of the executive branch and, given that judges’ life-long terms would extend past the authority of any one president, allowed the Senate to appoint members of the judiciary. On September 4, the Committee of Eleven reported an amended appointment clause. Unanimously adopted on September 7 and based on the Massachusetts model, the clause provided that the president shall nominate and, with the advice and consent of the Senate, appoint the officers of the United States.

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