President Clinton acceded yesterday to the wishes of powerful Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) and nominated a conservative Utah Republican and Hatch friend to a federal judgeship.
Hatch, who controls the confirmation of nominees for the federal judiciary, had slowed the process considerably this year, which was taken as a sign of his displeasure that the administration had failed to move on nominating his former aide, Ted Stewart, to a seat on the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah.
Environmentalists and liberals strongly opposed Stewart, currently chief of staff to Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt (R), and lobbied hard against his nomination, saying that Stewart was too conservative and inexperienced in legal matters. Opponents demanded that the administration, in exchange for nominating Stewart, at least secure Hatch's promise to confirm several appellate court nominees stalled in the Senate.
But when the administration finally nominated Stewart yesterday, White House spokesman Barry Toiv said no deal had been struck. "There's no quid pro quo," Toiv said, adding that "obviously we hope for cooperation from the Senate Judiciary Committee. That's what the American people expect."
The standoff between Hatch and the administration had already eased somewhat in June, after the administration agreed to begin FBI background checks and an American Bar Association review of Stewart's fitness for the bench. At about the same time, Hatch began holding confirmation hearings on judicial nominees.
The FBI check found nothing untoward in Stewart's background, and in the past few days the ABA gave Stewart a rating of "qualified" -- not the highest rating but enough to all but ensure Stewart's nomination.
"We've had some progress over the last several weeks" in terms of hearings on judicial nominees, Toiv said, "and we certainly hope for more progress in the near future."