Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, is wondering whether to support as the nominee for the Justice Department's No. 2 position the man who led a panel that attacked the Supreme Court nominations of such conservatives as Robert Bork.
Attorney General Dick Thornburgh wants Robert B. Fiske Jr. - the former chairman of the American Bar Association committee that screens judicial appointments - to be his top deputy, replacing Salt Laker Hal Christensen, who is returning to Utah.But Hatch has long attacked Fiske's old committee for being too liberal, for what Hatch says were unfair attacks against conservative court nominees and for giving information about nominees to liberal lobbying groups but not to conservatives.
Hatch told the Deseret News Tuesday, "I'm looking at the nomination very carefully. It has a lot of people from the left to the right upset, not just conservatives."
Hatch said he is among many who feel the ABA committee violated its claim of not taking into account a nominee's politics or ideology unless they are so extreme - such as being a member of the Ku Klux Klan - that they bear on judicial temperament or other fitness to serve.
"That committee has been very ideological, and I am concerned that Mr. Fiske may be part of that problem. I will meet with him to discuss it," Hatch said.
He added, "There is at least one absolutely partisan Democrat on that (ABA) committee who has tried to politically influence a number of evaluations. Fiske is not that person. I will meet with him to talk and try to see if can help him."
Fiske was chairman of the ABA's Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary from 1984 to 1987 - when Hatch was the point man in the Senate Judiciary Committee seeking the confirmation of usually conservative judges nominated by the Reagan administration.
The contempt Hatch and other conservatives had for that panel bubbled over when the panel - shortly after Fiske gave up his chairmanship - gave a split "qualified" rating of Bork, who was eventually rejected by the Senate after a long, bitter fight led by Hatch.
Hatch said he has not yet formally written a letter to President Bush opposing Fiske, "but Dick Thornburgh knows about my concern. He knows I forced an open hearing on the ABA's role with judicial nominees. I feel we should take politics out of the process . . . Some feel the ABA has too much power."
Among the concerns Hatch said he has about the ABA panel under Fiske's tenure was that it admittedly shared the names of prospective nominees with liberal lobbying groups. But when conservatives asked for the same favor, the panel decided it should stop sharing the names altogether.
"It is part of whole ideological bias of the ABA," Hatch said.
Meanwhile, Hatch also took one last opportunity to praise the outgoing No. 2 man in the Justice Department - Christensen, - whom Hatch helped obtain the job under former Attorney General Ed Meese. Christensen is returning to teach at the University of Utah, practice law and do some writing.
"Hal did a great job here. He has received wonderful plaudits from everyone," he said.