Scott Matheson says he's interested in judgeship
Former U.S. attorney » Son of a governor also was dean of U. law school
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He's the son of a governor and the brother of a congressman. Now Scott Matheson Jr. wants to add a new title to the legacy of this Utah dynasty.

Matheson is interested in becoming the newest judge on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.

"I would be honored to have an opportunity to serve, but it is very early and we will have to see how it all plays out," said Matheson, who is also a University of Utah law professor.

A slot -- expected to be filled by a Utahn -- will be available at the end of August, when Judge Michael McConnell, who teaches law at the University of Utah, officially will resign.

Naming a replacement won't happen fast. It may take President Barack Obama months to nominate someone. But Matheson already has let the White House and Utah's senators know he would like to be considered.

He previously served as the U.S. attorney for Utah from 1993 to 1997 and spent the next eight years as the dean of the U. law school. He ran for governor in 2004, ultimately losing to Republican Jon Huntsman Jr., whom Obama tapped to be the next ambassador to China.

Matheson may not be the only person interested in the opening, but he surely will have the most political clout behind him, starting with his younger brother, Rep. Jim Matheson, Utah's lone Democrat in Congress.

"I think he is highly qualified for that position and our country would be well served if he is there," Jim Matheson said.

Senators normally recommend a circuit court judge to the president, who ultimately nominates a candidate. Jim Matheson has yet to approach Sen. Orrin Hatch, who sits on the Judiciary Committee, on behalf of his brother, but he expects to soon.

"I plan on talking to a lot of folks," Jim Matheson said.

Hatch declined to talk about any specific candidate but did say Tuesday: "I have heard from many Utahns who are interested in the position. Several of them are highly qualified."

If nominated and confirmed, Scott Matheson would join the 20 other judges on the 10th Circuit bench, based in Denver. The court, which hears appeals from the federal district court level, covers six states -- Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming, Kansas and Oklahoma. Of the 21 judges, four hail from Utah.

That number includes McConnell, who announced his resignation in early May. He will officially leave the bench on Aug. 31 to direct the Constitutional Law Center at Stanford University in California.

Bush nominated McConnell in 2001, though his confirmation was delayed by more than a year because Democrats were upset about some of his writings, including one piece where he called the Roe v. Wade abortion ruling an "embarrassment." He was confirmed in 2002 and has served 6 1/2 years on the Circuit Court.

"It's been a wonderful opportunity and a great chance for public service, but my first love is teaching," McConnell told The Salt Lake Tribune .

At the time, Scott Matheson called McConnell one of the nation's leading constitutional law scholars.

"Anyone who's had the opportunity to take a class from Professor McConnell had a tremendous experience," he said.

McConnell declined to comment on Matheson on Tuesday, saying it would be inappropriate for a sitting judge to do so.

But others close to Scott Matheson say he has the right temperament for the job.

"You couldn't find a better judge than Scott Matheson Jr. He has the intelligence, the varied experience and the judgment to be an outstanding appellate judge," said Mike Zuhl, who ran Scott Matheson's 2004 gubernatorial campaign.

Utah Democratic Party Chairman Wayne Holland said party leaders have been excited about the possibility of Matheson becoming a circuit court judge, saying he is a "person everyone could easily support."

"No doubt there wouldn't be anybody more competent," he said.

mcanham@sltrib.com