John Daley ReportingUtah Senator Orrin Hatch is sharply criticizing the Federal Appeals Court in Denver. His comments follow a series of important rulings in which the judges reversed decisions made by Utah's district court judges.
The cases regard some of Utah's most controversial battles, which often divide the community along religious and political lines.
Hatch's comments are extraordinary on two counts. First, many politicians are reluctant to criticize federal judges who often have the final say on a variety of issues. What's more, Hatch is arguably the nation's most powerful figure when it comes to judicial nominations and he was a major player in the nomination and confirmation of many judges on both courts.
Though it's the president who appoints judges, it's the Senate who confirms them. And as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Utah Senator Orrin Hatch may be the nation's most influential person when it comes to judicial nominations.
Hatch has personally selected nearly every judge on Utah's federal bench and has a more diluted but still significant influence over the selection of judges at the higher court, the 10th Circuit, where the judges sit in three-member panels overseeing Utah and five other states.
But now Hatch, Utah's senior Republican in Congress, is speaking out after stunning 10th Circuit Court reversals on controversial issues including the Legacy Highway project, the Main Street Plaza battle and the Olympic bribery case. In each, Utah's political establishment won in the district court.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, (R) Utah: "We have the best district court bench in the country for a state. . . .The 10th circuit of appeals leaves a lot to be desired. In my opinion, they've been writing a lot of opinions that haven't been very good. There are some excellent people on the court, but there are some who really don't really know what the rule of judging is. And frankly I think you could pick them out pretty easily."
A quick look at the 10th Circuit Court reveals 12 of the 19 judges there were appointed by Republican presidents. And three of the four judges picked by Democratic President Bill Clinton were confirmed when Hatch chaired the Judiciary Committee.
The Hinckley Institute's Ted Wilson sees a bit of a culture clash between Utah's federal court and the more culturally and religiously diverse higher court in Denver.
Ted Wilson/Hinckley Institute of Politics: "Orrin with a couple of exceptions has tended to pick males, middle-aged. LDS faith, Mormon faith. And that may have an effect on the way the court looks at things in Denver."
Many legal observers consider the 10th Circuit a fairly conservative court, but that is not Hatch's view. Without naming names, Hatch says some of those higher court judges simply aren't up to snuff.
Sen. Hatch: "The tenth circuit court is not one of the highest rated courts in the land. It has a lot of room for growth and a lot of room for change. And part of that is because of people who literally don't understand the role of the judging, and who are far to the left of the Intermountain West."
On the three most high-profile Utah cases, Legacy Highway, Main Street and the Olympic bid scandal case, six of the nine judges who ruled in those cases were appointed by Republican presidents.