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HATCH MUM ON A MOVE TO SENATE JUDICIARY PANEL

SHARE HATCH MUM ON A MOVE TO SENATE JUDICIARY PANEL

Musical chairs by senior Republicans will give Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, an opportunity to become the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, which was made infamous during the Clarence Thomas Supreme Court confirmation hearings.

But Hatch is not saying whether he wants the post, which would require him to give up a similar position on the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee."He doesn't want to say anything about it yet, so no comment for now," said Hatch's press secretary, Paul Smith.

The opportunity comes because Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., said Wednesday he has chosen to become ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee next year - which means he must give up the same post on the Judiciary Committee. Hatch is next in line of seniority on that committee.

Thurmond, 89, is the longest-serving Republican in the Senate and can choose on which of his committees he will act as ranking Republican.

"I feel it is in the best interest of South Carolina for me to assume this position," Thurmond said Armed Services. It would allow Thurmond to better protect a large Air Force base in Myrtle Beach and a Navy shipyard in Charleston that have been proposed for closure.

Hatch through the years has been extremely critical of the Judiciary Committee and its handling of judicial confirmations, writing numerous law journal articles claiming framers of the Constitution never meant for it to be so critical of nominees.

If Republicans could manage to win back a majority of the Senate this year and thus earn control over chairmanships, Hatch would then be in position to become chairman of the committee he has so often criticized.

The committee is now chaired by Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del. Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., has more seniority than Biden on the committee, but Kennedy chose to chair the labor committee instead. He and Hatch often spar as senior members of both committees.

Hatch has often been a point-man for Republicans on the Judiciary Committee, leading battles for successful Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas and for unsuccessful nominee Robert Bork.