- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 8, 2004

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin G. Hatch has made the confirmation of a Utah friend to the appellate court for the District a top priority, causing many conservatives to worry that it might be at the expense of President Bush’s other judicial nominees.

Thomas Griffith, a former Senate lawyer who works at Brigham Young University in Provo, was nominated last month by Mr. Bush to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

Republicans on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue said the nomination was made after years of urging by Mr. Hatch, a Utah Republican and longtime ally of Mr. Griffith.

At a meeting last month after Mr. Griffith’s nomination, Hatch aide Bruce Artim told a group of Republican Judiciary staffers that Mr. Griffith was a top priority and other Bush nominees would be slowed to avoid conflicts that might detract from Mr. Griffith’s speedy confirmation, several Republicans said.

During the aborted confirmation hearing last week for another stalled Bush nominee, Mr. Hatch laid out his plans for the remainder of the year. Mr. Hatch promised to move forward on several nominees, but Mr. Griffith was the only nominee he listed by name.

“He’s pushing his guy at the expense of moving Mr. Bush’s nominees,” said one Republican Judiciary staffer.

Hatch spokeswoman Margarita Tapia said her boss supports Mr. Griffith as “an outstanding lawyer,” but disputed the suggestion that he would speed Mr. Griffith through the confirmation process at the expense of other nominees.

“He will work hard to see that all of the other judicial nominees already on the executive calendar, or reported by the committee during the remainder of this session, all receive the same up or down vote that the Constitution requires,” she said.

The Griffith nomination came after Senate Democrats filibustered six of Mr. Bush’s nominees.

Two more circuit court nominees are poised to be filibustered and seven are awaiting a Judiciary Committee vote to send their nominations to the Senate floor, where most are expected to be idled by filibusters.

Republicans — both Senate staffers and outside observers — worry that such a tactic would allow Democrats to block more than a dozen of Mr. Bush’s nominees behind the scenes.

“If Hatch doesn’t move all these nominees out of committee and onto the floor, it takes away our issue of Democrats as obstructionists,” one Republican observer said.

Republicans would like to use the issue of Democratic obstruction in conservative Southern states such as Georgia, South Carolina, Louisiana and North Carolina, where longtime Democratic senators are vacating their seats.

Republican strategists hope to pick up these seats and expand their party’s slim majority in the Senate. They think the Democratic blockade of conservative judicial nominees could prove helpful to Republicans.

“We would like to be able to ask every one of them if they are willing to promise to quit these filibusters,” one Republican said. “But it’s not going to happen if no more nominees come out of committee.”

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