Republican Sen. Hatch on Alito

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Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) shares his thoughts on Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito. Hatch is a member of the Senate's Judiciary Committee.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And now to Republican Orrin Hatch of Utah, who's also on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Thanks for being with us.

Senator ORRIN HATCH (Republican, Utah): Well, I'm glad to be with you.

BLOCK: When Senator Kennedy says that this was a nomination made out of weakness, not out of strength, how do you respond to that?

Sen. HATCH: Well, you know, I think he's referring to it as that the Democrats didn't get the nominee that they wanted to get. But you can't say it's weakness when you get somebody with the ability of Samuel Alito. My gosh, he's one of the best Circuit Court of Appeals judges in the country. Plus, there's no question about his credentials. So there's no way that anybody should pay any attention to any Democrat who starts to find fault.

BLOCK: Well, why do you figure, then, that he was not the president's first choice? Why did he go with Harriet Miers over Samuel Alito?

Sen. HATCH: Well, because I think the president wanted to try to get a notable woman on the court and did his best to choose Harriet Miers, who I thought would have been confirmed had she hung in there. But it came down to just picking who he thought was the best of all because a lot of us said, `Don't worry about gender, don't worry about race, don't worry about anything except picking the best you possibly can.' And he did.

But there's also another aspect, too. There are some of the best nominees in the country who basically don't want to go through this--potential nominees, I should say--who just don't want go through this meat grinder called the United States Senate confirmation process.

BLOCK: Do you figure that this confirmation process or battle to come will be this meat grinder that you describe?

Sen. HATCH: Well, I hope not. I hope our friends on the other side have figured it out that, look, here's a really outstanding person, you know, an Italian-American person who basically has all the credentials that you would need, but albeit is conservative.

BLOCK: When you look at Judge Alito's record from his years on the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals, what do you see in that record that you like?

Sen. HATCH: Well, first of all, he has a wide, varied experience on the court. He's one of the--he takes a very expansive view of the First Amendment's guarantee of free speech. He has an apparent commitment to religious liberty. His establishment clause decisions reflect an apparent sympathy for religious expression. And the main thing about him is that he clearly is a man who's not going to try and make laws from the bench. He's not going to act as a superlegislator in black robes. He understands that there's a limited role that the federal courts can take, and he's certainly not going to violate that limited role. I might add that he's no friend of criminal defendants in search and seizure cases, and he's tough on crime.

BLOCK: When I asked Senator Kennedy about the possibility of a filibuster of this nomination, he said he doesn't rule anything in or anything out. Do you think we could be looking at a filibuster by Democrats that would then trigger the so-called nuclear option by Senate Republicans that would change the rules of the Senate and eliminate judicial filibusters?

Sen. HATCH: Well, I hope not. I hope that the Democrats are not going to filibuster. But I wouldn't put it past them, and if they do, we've got to not put up with it, 'cause neither party should be able to filibuster federal judges. Advise and consent means a vote up and down, and frankly, that's what we ought to provide for these judges is a vote up and down.

BLOCK: So you're saying if they filibuster, that for you would be enough to trigger the nuclear option.

Sen. HATCH: I don't think there's any question. If they filibuster, we're going to have to trigger what I call the constitutional option, which is, I think, a much better set of terms.

BLOCK: One last question: President Bush has said he wants a confirmation by the end of this year. Do you see any way that that timetable can be kept to?

Sen. HATCH: I sure do, and this is the 31st day of October. We've got all of November and all of December. No, I think we can finish it before the end of December, but it does mean that the members of the Judiciary Committee are going to have to work throughout December even though probably the rest of the Senate will go out, at least temporarily, before Thanksgiving. And if that's the case, I think we should do it. It's that important.

BLOCK: Senator Hatch, thanks very much.

Sen. HATCH: Good to be with you.

BLOCK: Senator Orrin Hatch, Republican of Utah. He and Senator Kennedy are both members of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

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