SALT LAKE CITY — Asked in a friendly forum what he thought it would take to make the U.S. Supreme Court confirmation process more rational and constructive, Sen. Orrin Hatch had a quick answer: "Elect more Republicans."
Utah' senior GOP senator has hammered Democrats for the "unfortunate politicization" of the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to fill a vacancy on the high court.
"I wish they would treat people fairly," Hatch said during a speech Thursday at the Sutherland Institute, a conservative public policy think tank. "We’ve treated their nominees fairly."
Democrats would beg to differ when it comes to Merrick Garland, former President Barack Obama's choice to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia in 2016.
Hatch said the Democrats don't have the same argument because this is not a presidential election year, though he conceded politics was at play then, too.
"But it was all politicized. There’s no question about that, and not necessarily by me," he said. "I was willing to support Merrick Garland under the circumstances and would have supported him had they been able to get him up" for a vote.
In 2016, though, Hatch stood with his Republican colleagues in putting off the confirmation process until after the presidential election.
"Doing so will keep what should be a serious confirmation discussion from becoming denigrated by the toxic politics of this election season, and it will give the American people a voice in the direction of our nation’s highest court," he said at the time.
President Donald Trump ultimately chose Neil Gorsuch, whom the Senate confirmed to the Supreme Court last year.
The Garland nomination was the "high point" of politicization that goes back to the acrimonious Robert Bork confirmation hearings 30 years ago, said Chris Karpowitz, co-director of the BYU Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy, noting Garland didn't even get a Senate hearing.
"Many Democrats will feel for the rest of their lives that that seat was stolen from Merrick Garland and the Obama administration," Karpowitz said.
Hatch said in a "rational" world, Kavanaugh would be confirmed quickly and overwhelmingly. "Unfortunately, we don't live in a rational world, at least not when it comes to the Supreme Court."
A member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Hatch has voted on the confirmation of 13 Supreme Court justices, including every current sitting member of the court. He said Trump could have really caused a furor with a more controversial pick than Kavanaugh.
Democrats, the senator said, can't make a good case against the Washington, D.C., federal appellate judge, but that won't stop them from twisting his record and trying to embarrass him.
"They hate the fact that Hillary (Clinton) was beaten and especially by Donald Trump," Hatch said. "I love the fact that she was beaten and especially by Donald Trump."
Democrats contend Kavanaugh would repeal Roe v. Wade and threaten women's health care; eliminate the Affordable Care Act and protections for pre-existing conditions and favor big business over consumers.24 comments on this story
Karpowitz said the stakes are especially high because Kavanaugh's confirmation could make the court more conservative for decades to come. And Hatch, he said, is at the head of those efforts.
Hatch said he doesn't know how Kavanaugh would decide cases but said he wouldn't legislate from the bench, "which is what too many of the more liberal judges do."
"Do I know how he’s going to vote and how he’s going to write opinions in the future? No, I don’t," Hatch said. "But I have a pretty good idea of who the man is and what he’s likely to do."