With the sudden death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia at 79, the process will soon begin to replace the conservative Reagan appointee. The President and the U.S. Senate share the responsibility of appointing nominees.
President Obama has successfully appointed two justices to the supreme court since taking office, Justice Sonia Sotomayor in 2009 and Justice Elena Kagan in 2010. He may choose to appoint one more before he leaves office in 2017, though whosoever he chooses will likely face a tough test in the Republican-controlled Senate. Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell says the Supreme Court vacancy left by Scalia should not be filled until there is a new president, according to the Associated Press.
As TIME explained in 2005, here is how the nomination process works:
STEP ONE: The President selects a nominee
Nomination: The President announces a nomination to the Senate.
Nominee's Paperwork: The nominee completes paperwork concerning finances and personal background.
FBI Investigation: The FBI probes the nominee's criminal history, if any.
STEP TWO: The Senate confirms or rejects the nominee
Senate Confirmation Hearings: The nominee is sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Eighteen senators interview the nominee. Topics include the nominee's qualifications and previous casework. The committee also questions witnesses who support or oppose the nomination.
Committee Vote: The committee votes on the President's nominee. No matter the vote's outcome, the nominee is generally sent to the Senate floor after the committee hearings.
Senate Vote: The full Senate deliberates and then votes on the nominee. A simple majority (51 votes) confirms or rejects the nominee's appointment.
If the nominee is confirmed, the Supreme Court justice is appointed for life.
If the nominee is rejected, the President chooses another and the process is repeated.