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Hatch: Court vacancies filled soon

By John Daley | Posted - Jan. 5, 2011 at 6:57 p.m.

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SALT LAKE CITY -- Two seats on the federal bench in Utah await appointees, and there is no permanent selection for U.S. Attorney for Utah. Sen. Orrin Hatch says he expects nominees for key vacancies to be named within the coming months.

Washington gridlock so far has delayed those picks, and a backlog of cases are mounting.

There are currently 94 vacancies on federal trial and appeals courts. Those nominations, plus those for U.S. attorneys, have become a political football -- but Hatch says he thinks the logjam may open up soon.

The White House has yet to name permanent selections for any of those jobs. It typically relies on a state's senior senator for guidance.

At Utah's federal court downtown two judges are on senior status, working with reduced caseloads. One told the White House he was leaving in spring of 2009. The U.S. Attorney who served under the Bush Administration left a year ago.

"The White House has got to push this thing forward and put out a name for us," said Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah. "It's harming Utah, and I don't see an explanation for why it's being slowed down."

The White House has yet to name permanent selections for any of those jobs. It typically relies on a state's senior senator for guidance.

Hatch told KSL he knows what the holdup is but declined to say what it is.

"I pretty well do and I'm not really going to talk about it here," Hatch said. "We'll just work on it and we'll get it solved, hopefully in the near future."

U.S. Chief Justice John G. Roberts recently urged the U.S. Senate to stop holding up judicial confirmations for political reasons, citing overworked judges and mounting vacancies across the country.

"It means the White House has been slow in getting some nominations moved forward," said Utah's newest senator Mike Lee. "I'm sure they'll be moving on those soon."

Political observer Dan Jones says gridlock has stalled judicial picks on both sides for years.

"It will always be ‘you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours,'" he said. "Mr. Obama is going to have to have some Republican support to get anything done."

Those court positions in particular are crucial. Judicial appointments are lifetime appointments -- and those picks are key to any president's legacy, which helps explain why there's been such a protracted fight over those positions.

Hatch, for his part, says he's "working on it."

"Hopefully in the next few months we'll get some names up and we'll get those things moving," he said.


John Daley


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