Op-ed: The bigger picture about Sen. Hatch and appointing federal judges

This Op-ed, written by Better Utah Board Member Jeff Swift, originally appeared in the Deseret News. To read the original article, click here

In a Nov. 14 opinion piece in these pages, Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch preached about the importance of the federal judiciary. He said the federal judiciary should be nonpartisan and full of qualified judges. He worried about previous presidents nominating people he considers unqualified.

We can learn just as much from what Hatch left out, however, as we can from what he included.

Hatch and his fellow partisans blocked President Barack Obama’s judicial nominees at an unprecedented rate. They blocked even nominees deemed “well qualified” by the independent American Bar Association (ABA). One can only assume that the senators from Utah and their fellow Republicans were opposing these qualified nominees solely for political purposes.

Hatch also neglected to mention that only four nominees to the federal judiciary since 1989 received a unanimous rating of “unqualified” by the ABA. Two of those were nominated by President Donald Trump, and both were supported by Utah’s members of the Senate Judiciary Committee: Hatch and Sen. Mike Lee.

Hatch is right that nominees to the federal judiciary — whose appointments carry lifetime tenure — should be held to a very rigorous standard beyond petty partisan politics.

Unfortunately, the Republican majority on the Judiciary Committee has come under fire over the past week for seemingly neglecting this sacred duty. Its members unanimously confirmed 36-year-old partisan blogger and Deputy Assistant Attorney General Brett Talley to the federal judiciary. Not only has Talley never tried a case in court, and not only was he unanimously deemed unqualified by the ABA, but Talley also neglected to report a huge conflict of interest: He is married to a White House lawyer.

The Judiciary Committee made a mistake. Utah’s senators both made a mistake. Will they take responsibility for their rushed partisan actions, or will they try to point blame elsewhere?

Unfortunately, it looks like they have chosen the path of least responsibility: They have started attacking the ABA’s credibility as an independent organization.

Never mind that the nonpartisan ABA found ultraconservative Supreme Court nominee Neil M. Gorsuch “well qualified” — these aren’t partisan hacks. Never mind that the ABA has been working with and assessing judicial nominees under presidents of both parties for decades. Republicans have decided to make the excuse that the independent experts can’t be trusted.

Sen. Hatch, when you subvert Senate procedures to keep your political opponents from filling open judicial seats, and when you throw your support behind objectively unqualified judicial candidates because they happen to have the right parenthetical letter next to their name, you do incredible lasting damage to the integrity of the judiciary.

Jeff Swift, Ph.D., serves on the board of the Alliance for a Better Utah and as policy director for the LDS Dems. He lives in South Jordan with his family.

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