O'Neill in Salt Lake Tribune: Hatch Provided Impetus for Prior Sotomayor Confirmation

Professor Michael O'Neill credits Utah's Senator Orrin Hatch, who was chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee over a decade ago, for working with President Bill Clinton and Senate Democrats to bring a vote on Sonia Sotomayor's nomination to the federal appeals court for the 2nd Circuit, ending a year-long delay in her confirmation.

O'Neill told the Salt Lake Tribune, "Hatch was really the guy who felt that Sonia Sotomayor shouldn't have been held up any longer and really needed to be confirmed to the court of appeals. He got her moved." O'Neill served as Hatch's general counsel at the time and is a former Judiciary Committee staff member.

Since his election in 1976, Hatch has been involved in every Supreme Court confirmation, but he has given no assurance of support for Sotomayor in her nomination to the high court. In fact, Hatch has expressed some concern that the nominee could be considered a judicial activist. Should Hatch choose to oppose Sotomayor this time around, it would represent the first time in his long career in the Senate that he voted against a nominee to the Supreme Court.

Supreme Court molded by Hatch's influence: Politics? Salt Lake Tribune, June 7, 2009. By Thomas Burr and Matt Canham. 

"One of the top three players -- Hatch, who once yearned to sit on the high court himself, has often said he believes the Senate should confirm whomever the president picks, regardless of political persuasion, as long as that person is qualified.

"But Hatch is not just a Supreme Court rubber stamp; through his role on the Senate Judiciary Committee he has left a significant mark on the nation's top court.

"Since his election in 1976, Hatch has participated -- and sometimes played a pivotal role -- in every Supreme Court confirmation fight of the past three decades. He has voted for every single justice on the bench, with the exception of Justice John Paul Stevens, who earned his place two years before Hatch came to the Senate.

"Hatch claims credit in his autobiography for suggesting to President Clinton the names of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer, who coasted to confirmation to the high court. And he counts still as a friend Associate Justice Clarence Thomas.

"'If you were to say who in the Senate has had the greatest influence on the current court, [Hatch] has to be easily in the top three,' says Supreme Court expert Tom Goldstein, a Washington attorney who writes the well-respected SCOTUSblog.

"The other two would be Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, the current chairman, and Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter, the most recent chairman.

"'That continues right now where he's kind of almost the target audience for the White House in a sense,' Goldstein says. 'If [Obama] wants to avoid a tremendous war over [Sotomayor's] confirmation' he will want to persuade Hatch to join his cause."

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