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Here's a hypothetical:

Sen. Orrin Hatch is standing in a pasture in southern Utah with local rancher Nephi Higglemunther when he points to a cow and says: "That's a horse."

Higglemunther: "No, senator. It's a cow. It has all the features of a cow."

Hatch: "That doesn't matter. I insist it's a horse."

Higglemunther: "Why do you insist that when it clearly is a cow?"

Hatch: "Because I want it to be a horse. Horses are cooler animals than cows."

Higglemunther: "Well OK. Whatever you say, senator."

It's a made up story, of course, but it's meant as a metaphor to explain the real-life story of Utah's longest serving U.S. senator playing politics with judicial appointments while insisting politics has nothing to do with it.

Hatch is now arguing that President Barack Obama should not send a nominee to the Senate to replace Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and leave that seat vacant for a year so the next president can make the selection.

That is the opposite stance he took in 2004 when, as Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, he scheduled hearings on several court appointments made by Republican President George W. Bush, over the objections of Democrats on the committee who complained the president was trying to push through his own appointments during a contentious election year.

"The fact is we have to try to keep moving judges as much as we can because it's the country that's concerned, not politics," Hatch said at the time.

Four years later, Hatch lambasted Democrats for holding up nominees of Bush, who was by then a lame duck president.

But now, he says, holding up a judicial appointment is the right thing to do. He says things are different because this promises to be such a contentious presidential election.

In other words, the cow is a horse.

The only thing different is the nomination will be made by a Democrat and the Senate is controlled by the Republicans. Before, the nominations were made by a Republican and the Senate was controlled by the Democrats.

Hatch says his current stand is not about politics or ideology, it's just the right thing to do.


Hatch's entire 39-year career in the U.S. Senate has been about playing politics with judicial and other appointments and using delaying tactics and intimidation to try and stack federal courts with judges who mirror his conservative ideology.

During Hatch's first stint as chairman of the Senate Judiciary — from 1995 to 2001 — Hatch was a key player in the delaying tactics of the Republicans who held up dozens of then-Democratic President Bill Clinton's judicial appointments leading to a critical shortage of federal judges throughout the country.

In fact, during Clinton's tenure, when Republicans controlled the Senate, 20 appellate court positions were left open because of the Senate's refusal to move them forward.

Also, 42 Clinton nominees to U.S. district courts were left unfilled until Clinton's term was over and Republican George W. Bush became president.

A CNN online story in 1997 noted there were 100 judicial vacancies at the time and a record wait of 183 days from nomination to confirmation. That led to a backlog in cases resulting in the number of pending cases in federal courts that were more than three years old mushrooming from 13,538 in 1995 to 16,152 in 1997.

Not only did Hatch hold up Clinton's judicial appointments in the 1990s, he used his power as a bargaining chip to get Clinton to appoint Hatch's choices to the Utah bench as U.S. attorney's office.

Scott Howell, who was the minority leader in the Utah Senate at the time and later ran twice against Hatch for the U.S. Senate, says he and other Utah Democrats complained to Clinton about appointing judges recommended by Hatch instead of those recommended by members of the president's own party.

He said Clinton was apologetic, but said that was the only way he could get hearings on important nominees in other jurisdictions.

But, hey, it was the right thing to do at the time. —