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Washington • What do speeding Utah drivers, immigrants and the attorney general nominee have in common?
Quite a bit, it would seem, if you watched this week's Senate confirmation hearings for Loretta Lynch, President Barack Obama's appointee to head the Justice Department.
A lot of hypotheticals were tossed around during Lynch's two-day hearing, including questions about how much power a government's chief executive has – all in the context of whether Obama overreached with his executive orders to halt deportations of millions of undocumented immigrants.
That's where speeders were used to drive home the point.
Sen. Mike Lee asked, for example, could a governor unilaterally let drivers who petitioned for a waiver just blow past the speed limit because state lawmakers couldn't agree on how fast interstate speeds should be?
"Would that, under that hypothetical scenario, not be tantamount to a usurpation of the legislative role that belongs to the legislative branch?" Lee quizzed Lynch Wednesday.
Lynch responded that she would need to know more about such an action to render an opinion, leaving Lee less than satisfied.
He tried again Thursday, posing the question to a panel of legal experts. Then Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., toyed with Lee's analogy.
"So maybe the comparison would be more like the governor of Utah deciding that on a flat straightaway in the middle of the state, that going over the 65-mile-an-hour speed limits would not be enforced unless the person was doing something in addition dangerously, like weaving back and forth," Blumenthal said, while in more congested areas, the speed limit would be strictly applied.
Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University, said that was "very analogous" to Obama's actions because there were "all kinds of fine gradations" in the guidance that followed the president's executive orders.
Lee disagreed with Blumenthal's hijacking of his hypothetical; He wasn't talking about the Salt Flats where speed races take place, the senator said, but about state highways with state-set speed limits.
"There is a difference between deciding not to post a police officer there and issuing a permit saying, 'You may exceed the speed limit and if you are caught going, you know, up to 75 miles an hour, even though that's in excess of the lawful posted speed limit, you will not get a ticket,'" Lee said. "There is a distinction there."
At the end of the hearing, Lee indicated Lynch had lost his vote.
"I expected that I might be able to go either way on this, that I might well end up supporting her," Lee said. "I did not feel comfortable at the end of the day yesterday with the idea that I could vote for her because of the fact that I didn't get answers to questions that I find very troubling."
His Utah colleague, Sen. Orrin Hatch, though, said the Department of Justice was in "dire" need of new leadership and he'd vote for Lynch.
"Throughout her confirmation hearing, Ms. Lynch has demonstrated her qualifications and made specific commitments to work with Congress," Hatch said.
Lee's former chief Senate counsel, David Barlow, who also served as the U.S. attorney for Utah, also testified at Thursday's hearing but neither Utah senator engaged with him during their few minutes of questioning.