THE WHITE HOUSE has nominated a man named Ted Stewart to a district court vacancy in Utah. Mr. Stewart is not what one might expect in a Clinton judicial nominee. He is a staunch Republican, currently serving as chief of staff to the governor of Utah, and his views on environmental matters give nightmares to environmental groups. He is the favorite of Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who controls the rate at which Mr. Clinton's nominations get considered. Nominations essentially froze this year when the White House demurred about moving forward with Mr. Stewart's. The process kick-started only when the White House sent Mr. Stewart's name for an FBI background check and an American Bar Association evaluation.
Mr. Stewart's nomination does not appear to be part of an explicit deal. His nomination, rather, appears to be a more diffuse investment in Mr. Hatch's cooperation on judges. Officials clearly hope it will both free up several important appeals court nominations and grease the wheels for judges in general.
The president should not, as a general matter, be muscled into nominating to the bench people whose views are so inconsistent with his own, and should not be forced to do so. In holding other nominations hostage to this one, Mr. Hatch, for his part, showed a heavy-handed side that ill becomes a senator who has at times bucked his party in supporting and moving Clinton nominees. This power play looks worse for his less-than-tasteful decision to hold a hearing for Mr. Stewart and report him to the Senate floor within 48 hours of his nomination -- though other nominees have been pending for excessively long periods of time.
In the end, however, in practical terms the White House may have done the right thing in giving Mr. Hatch his man. The judiciary has more than 800 judges, and it currently has a number of vacancies that need to be filled -- particularly with an election year coming up, in which the confirmation process can be expected to slow down even more. Preserving a working relationship with the Judiciary Committee chairman is surely worth a single district judgeship in his home state. This is hardly the worst deal the White House has ever made. The key now is for Mr. Hatch and the White House to reach a more general understanding that allows more judges to be confirmed more quickly.