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Washington • A clear majority of Utah voters wants the Senate to hold hearings on President Barack Obama's nominee to the Supreme Court in contrast with the state's two senators, who oppose such action.

About 58 percent of registered voters said the Senate should hold hearings on nominee Merrick Garland, while 33 percent said senators should refuse to move forward with the high court choice, according to a new Salt Lake Tribune-Hinckley Institute of Politics poll. About 9 percent of voters were unsure.

Sens. Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee have joined most of their fellow Republicans in opposing hearings for Garland, arguing that the next president should be the one to fill the seat of the late Justice Antonin Scalia, who died in February.

The stance, according to a new study, is unprecedented.

"The normal course is that you proceed to evaluate the candidate on the merits and you perhaps don't vote yes but you at least have hearings to find who the candidate is," says Jason Mazzone, a law professor and co-director of the Program in Constitutional Theory at the University of Illinois. "That's the tradition, so I'm not surprised that the good people of Utah think that's the right course."

Mazzone co-wrote a study released this week finding that in every one of the 103 earlier Supreme Court vacancies, the president nominated a replacement and the Senate held hearings, even if the original nominee was not confirmed.

(The study excluded nominees made after a presidential election but before a new president and earlier cases before it was established that a vice president succeeding a late president had the power to nominate.)

"You cannot find a single precedent for the position of Republican senators," Mazzone said Wednesday in an interview. "You cannot simply find a historical perspective for that."

Utah's senators, however, insist they are under no obligation to hold hearings on a nominee, especially one named during a presidential election year by a second-term president. The U.S. Constitution says the president "shall" appoint justices to the Supreme Court by and with the advice and consent of the Senate.

"Nowhere in that document does it say the Senate has a duty to give the presidential nominees a vote," says a letter signed by all 11 Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee, including Hatch and Lee. "It says appointments shall be made with the advice and consent of the Senate. That is very different than saying every nominee receives a vote."

That letter, signed Feb. 23 before Obama named Garland as the nominee, said the GOP-controlled Judiciary Committee will not hold hearings on any Supreme Court pick until after the next president is sworn into office Jan. 20, 2017. Garland, the chief judge of the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, was nominated March 16.

Lee's office declined to comment on the Tribune-Hinckley poll.

Hatch said in a statement: "A majority of senators have determined that it is proper for the Senate to conduct a Supreme Court confirmation process after the current election season."

He added, "I am confident most Utahns agree that careful consideration of a nominee's views on fundamental constitutional rights like religious liberty, Second Amendment freedoms, and the right to life are too important to inject into the middle of a toxic presidential campaign."

Two-thirds of Utah voters identifying themselves as "strong Republicans" agreed with that position. But a much larger number — those identifying themselves as Republican or leaning Republican — were split down the middle.

Meanwhile, huge majorities of independent, Democratic-leaning and Democratic voters backed hearings.

A majority of voters of all genders, age groups, religions, education levels and in every Utah congressional district supported Senate hearings on the nominee.

The random-sample poll by SurveyUSA was conducted among 1,425 registered voters from June 2-8. The margin of error was 2.6 percentage points.