- The Washington Times - Monday, January 20, 2003

Most books by politicians read as if they were written in collaboration with public relations specialists. An exception is the candid "Square Peg: Confessions of a Citizen Senator" by Republican Orrin Hatch of Utah, who has been an influential and controversial member of that ceaseless battleground since 1976.
For example, he tells how both Republicans and Democrats on the Judiciary Committee play fierce hardball on judicial nominations by the president. The Constitution gives the Senate as a whole the right to "advise and consent" to these nominations. But, as was evident last year, there are Democrats whose intent is not to advise but to kill the nominations of judges who may not vote on the bench as these ideological senators would.
So, too, with Republicans. Mr. Hatch writes of how, in 1997, he successfully resisted a proposal by Washington State Republican Sen. Slate Gorton to give a single senator from just one of the nine states in a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals jurisdiction the power to veto a presidential nominee who came from any of those states.
During a recent conversation, Mr. Hatch told me that he intends as far as he is able as chairman of the Judiciary Committee to adhere to what the Constitution and the Federalist Papers clearly describe as the meaning of "advise and consent." The nominations of all federal judges, Mr. Hatch said, should ultimately go to the floor of the Senate for a vote, even when a majority of the Judiciary Committee votes against a nominee.
Since the Senate represents the entire country, it is there that the final decision should be made. The litmus tests of some of the senators on the Judiciary Committee ought not to be enough to dismiss a qualified nominee as happened last year with Priscilla Owen of Texas.
Having written many times, during the Clinton impeachment process, on why the president should have been convicted by the Senate, I asked Mr. Hatch why the House impeachment charges failed to persuade a majority of the Senate. What he told me may interest future historians:
"I said to the Republicans," Mr. Hatch recalled, "that we won't get one Democratic vote. Therefore, we should vote to adjourn the proceeding without prejudice. That is, with the possibility of resuming the impeachment process. In adjourning, we would say that although we don't have the votes to convict, we acknowledge President Clinton committed perjury and we condemn it."
By the Senate adjourning without prejudice, Mr. Hatch told me, "if Clinton committed perjury or an impeachable offense again, we could reinstitute the proceeding. That would have been a true result, by contrast, with Clinton saying afterward that he had upheld the Constitution."
Agreeing that Clinton did not hold uphold the Constitution, I mentioned to Mr. Hatch what Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Richard Posner wrote in his book "An Affair of State: The Investigation, Impeachment and Trial of President Clinton." After detailing Mr. Clinton's crimes, Mr. Posner wrote:
"The maximum punishment for one count of perjury or subordination of perjury is five years in prison, and for one count of witness tampering, 10 years. The calculation of the actual sentence would be a complex process governed by the federal sentencing guidelines. A conservative estimate of the outcome (ignoring perjury in Clinton's answers to the questions put to him by the House Judiciary Committee and certain other peripheral offenses) would be a prison sentence of 30 to 37 months."
As for Mr. Hatch's suggestion that at least an adjournment of the impeachment process would have prevented the widespread belief that Mr. Clinton had actually been acquitted of the charges, the senator told me: "We could have done it, if I'd had one Democratic senator. Joe Lieberman said he would, but then he backed off."
Mr. Hatch and I have often disagreed on civil liberties through the years, but when I asked him about John Poindexter's massive computerized Total Information Awareness Program at the Defense Department which can track the personal records of every American, Mr. Hatch said that when he "read George Orwell's '1984' years ago, I laughed at any prospect that our society would ever be subject to that kind of constant surveillance. But that's where we are now. "We have to look at this operation very carefully," Mr. Hatch added, "and maybe it shouldn't be allowed to go ahead at all."
The Senate Judiciary Committee has oversight powers over this new plan, under Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, to make "1984" a reality in our lives.
I'm glad Sen. Orrin Hatch is apprehensive.


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