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Washington • Freshman Sen. Mike Lee, who has clerked at all three levels of the federal judiciary, will join his senior colleague, Orrin Hatch, on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Republican leaders waived a rule against two senators from the same state serving on the powerful panel to allow Lee to join Hatch on the committee.

Lee, a lawyer who beat three-term incumbent Sen. Bob Bennett to grab his title, says he is eager to join the panel that oversees judicial nominations and the legal system.

"It's very exciting," Lee said. "I've got a real intense interest with the federal courts."

The first-term senator clerked twice for Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, once at the circuit-court level and once at the high court, and previously clerked for federal Judge Dee Benson in Salt Lake City. Alito and Justice Clarence Thomas attended Lee's swearing-in ceremony and a reception in his honor, and Lee's brother, Tom, is a member of the Utah Supreme Court.

Lee, who often sprinkles his conversations with Latin legal phrases, thanked Hatch, a former chairman of the Judiciary Committee, for supporting his effort to get on the panel. And Hatch says he looks forward to it.

"Mike's a person with a strong commitment to the judiciary, the rule of law, and our Constitution," Hatch said. "He'll be an able partner on the Judiciary Committee, and I know that together we can steer our country back toward the basic principles our founders enshrined in the Constitution."

Don Stewart, a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Lee, given his legal background, was a good fit for the Judiciary Committee. And, Stewart noted, Hatch "was a strong advocate for getting him on there."

Minnesota's two Democrats, Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, are the only other two senators from a single state to serve on Judiciary.

Hatch headed the panel from 1995 through 2001 and again from 2003 through 2005.

Hatch gives up Intelligence post

Sen. Orrin Hatch, the longest-serving member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, is stepping down from the panel as he takes over as the ranking Republican on the Finance Committee.

The large class of freshman Republicans forced him to give up the Intel post.

Besides Finance, Hatch remains on Judiciary; Health, Education, Labor and Pensions; and now will serve on the Aging Committee.

Thomas Burr