It takes an average of about 100 days from the time a U.S. Supreme Court justice announces his or her retirement until the Senate confirms a replacement, according to Senate Judiciary Committee.
President Barack Obama on Monday nominated Solicitor General Elena Kagan as successor to the retiring Justice John Paul Stevens.
While no nomination is guaranteed to be approved by the Senate, Kagan is seen as having a good chance for confirmation. Here is a look at what she faces in the drive to be sworn in.
* In coming days, Kagan will likely have courtesy visits with Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell. She will also visit with the 12 Democrats and seven Republicans on the Judiciary Committee who will hold the confirmation hearing.
* The 400,000-member American Bar Association, the world's largest voluntary professional association, will conduct its own review of the nominee. The ABA will deem Kagan "well qualified," "qualified" or "unqualified." While the rating will not ensure confirmation or rejection, it is certain to be a factor in Senate consideration.
* The Judiciary Committee will submit a questionnaire to Kagan. Questions will range from age, place of birth and education to net worth, copies of the nominee's public writings and speeches, potential conflicts of interest and if anyone at the White House asked how she might rule. In 2005, the panel complained that President George W. Bush's nominee Harriet Miers had inadequately filled out her questionnaire. She withdrew from consideration.
* Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy will announce a date for the start of his panel's confirmation hearing. It will likely last about a week.
On the first day, each committee member will be invited to make an opening statement, followed by a statement by the nominee. Questioning will begin the next day and is certain to touch on such volatile issues as gun control and abortion rights. At the close of the hearing, committee members may submit any remaining questions to the nominee in writing.
* Once all questions are answered, the committee will send the nomination to the full 100-member Senate with a "favorable" or "unfavorable" recommendation.
* Reid, as Senate majority leader, will schedule a debate by his chamber, followed by a vote. Republicans could try to mount a procedural roadblock, but they say that is unlikely. Sixty votes would be needed to clear a possible Republican roadblock. Democrats control 59 of the Senate's 100 seats.
* Once confirmed, Kagan would be sworn in, likely at the White House. Chief Justice John Roberts would likely administer the oath. But another justice could do it.
(Editing by Alistair Bell and Will Dunham)