- Associated Press - Friday, April 22, 2016

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Two U.S. senators from Utah are pushing for the confirmation of President Barack Obama’s Utah federal judicial nominee, but they have said they won’t attend hearings to consider his Supreme Court pick.

Republican Sens. Mike Lee and Orrin Hatch want a quick vote to confirm Ronald Russell, calling him an excellent judge for the U.S. District Court of Utah.

“In Ron Russell, I found not only a man with an outstanding résumé, but also an upstanding servant of his community,” Hatch said.

But both Lee and Hatch have said they will neither support nor attend a hearing on Merrick Garland, who President Barack Obama nominated to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia. They have said the nomination should come from the next president.

Conn Carroll, a spokesperson for Lee’s Senate office, said the two nominations are very different. He highlighted the fact that the Utah district court seat has been open almost two years longer than the Supreme Court vacancy.

Hatch has previously called Garland an excellent judge.

Hatch said in an emailed statement that the position Russell would be filling is much less contentious and less powerful than the Supreme Court spot, so the decision shouldn’t have to wait until after the presidential election is completed.

The federal court seat has been vacant since Judge Brian Stewart took senior status in 2014, according to a statement on Hatch’s website. Russell was nominated for the spot about a year later.

Lee and Hatch are not alone in their pushback against the president’s Supreme Court nomination. After Obama nominated Garland in March, Garland met with roughly 40 senators, with no sign that Republicans will allow hearings or a vote on his nomination. For example, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham called Garland honest and capable, but he has said the next president should fill the vacancy.

The Salt Lake Tribune reported (https://bit.ly/247XesJ) Thursday that Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond who tracks judicial nominees, said Russell’s chances could be significantly impaired should there be a generalized GOP push against all of Obama’s judicial nominees.

Russell is one of more than a dozen nominees for Utah’s district court opening. There are 10 U.S. district court judges and five magistrates on the bench, including Stewart, according to its website.

Utah’s constitution requires the Senate to make a decision on each judicial appointment within two months.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, a key Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, said it’s crucial for senators to meet to decide on judicial nominations for the Supreme Court. “Refusing to consider Chief Judge Merrick Garland for the Supreme Court is not only unfair to him, it is irresponsible and a threat to a functioning democracy,” he said


Information from: The Salt Lake Tribune, https://www.sltrib.com

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