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Washington » Scott Matheson Jr. won a unanimous vote by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday, but his nomination to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals could end up stuck on the Senate floor until later this year --unless Sen. Orrin Hatch steps in.
And the Utah Republican, a former Judiciary Committee chairman, plans to do just that.
"I'll be pushing to get that done, but it's not always easy," Hatch said Thursday. "I'll do everything in my power to get him through as soon as I can."
Without such a nudge, one appellate nominee from Tennessee has been waiting six months for a vote; others have gone four or five months awaiting action.
"I'd say the average wait is four months, and [Matheson's timing may be] exacerbated by the looming confirmation process for [Supreme Court nominee Elena] Kagan, and you've got August break," University of Richmond law professor Carl Tobias explained. "I think we're looking at the fall."
That confirmation vote could come sooner, Tobias said, with Hatch's help.
The longtime Utah senator already worked his magic with one member of the committee, Sen. Jon Kyl, who raised issues with Matheson's book, Presidential Constitutionalism in Perilous Times . The scholarly book looks at executive power during wartime but has irritated Republicans who say Matheson was harshly critical of President George W. Bush.
"I found his comments," Kyl said, to be same kind of hyperventilating political screed that normally you see two weeks before an election."
But, the Arizona Republican added, he had chatted with Hatch and wouldn't object to moving Matheson's nomination forward.
"Because of Sen. Hatch's strong endorsement of the nominee and based on that and my knowledge [of his vetting process]," Kyl said, "I will not oppose this nomination."
Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wisc., who studied at Oxford University at the same time as Matheson, heralded his friend for the role of an appellate judge.
"Scott has been deeply involved in Utah politics, but in my opinion, he was born to be a judge," Feingold said in a statement to the committee. "Beyond his outstanding intellect and experience, his fair-mindedness and probity make him perfect for the role. Scott never hesitates to do the right thing, even when it is unpopular."
Matheson is the brother of Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, and the son of the late Utah Gov. Scott Matheson Sr.