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HATCH’S INFLUENCE SHOWS AGAIN AS CLINTON SELECTS A MODERATE

SHARE HATCH’S INFLUENCE SHOWS AGAIN AS CLINTON SELECTS A MODERATE

For a second time, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, used good timing and bare-knuckled warnings to create more influence than liberals with President Clinton on a Supreme Court nomination.

Liberals deeply wanted Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt this year and last. Conservative Hatch would prefer about anyone else. In the end, moderate Stephen Breyer won the nod now, just as moderate Ruth Bader Ginsburg did last year."No one thought we'd have two relatively moderate justices out of this administration with all the left-leaning constituents it has to satisfy. But we do," Hatch told the Deseret News.

How did that happen? Clinton appears to have heeded threats by Hatch, which were made possible because Clinton has his hands full with other big legislative battles (such as health-care reform) and political trouble with the West.

Hatch - the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee - simply convinced Clinton that the only way to avoid another big, messy, time-consuming battle that would complicate the other matters was to avoid Babbitt.

"I know the president had tremendous pressure from the left to pick Babbitt," Hatch said. "They not only wanted a new Earl Warren (a chief justice who conservatives say legislated from the bench to help the left), they wanted a smart Earl Warren."

He added, "They wanted Babbitt for one reason: for all his political skills - and his being bright to boot - that they thought would move the court to the left." Hatch thought the same and openly worried about it.

Some Hatch aides said he did not like the thought of Babbitt - former president of the environmentalist League of Conservation Voters - interpreting the Endangered Species Act, wetlands rules, mining laws and wilderness legislation. Hatch opposed Babbitt on such issues since the 1970s' Sagebrush Rebellion.

Hatch didn't wait for Clinton to call. He called Clinton to offer political cover for the possible nomination of Richard Arnold, a federal judge from Arkansas. Hatch pledged to defend Clinton against any attacks of cronyism for picking an Arkansan. "He is a quality jurist and was deserving," Hatch said.

Of course, Hatch made clear to the White House in several calls over the weeks that he would not offer such support to Babbitt.

"I told him that coming from a political background (former Arizona governor and presidential candidate), Babbitt would have a lot of antagonism coming out of the woodwork. And all of the charges would have to be checked out," Hatch said.

The translation is that any hearings on Babbitt would be lengthy. They would be tough. And they would likely look in detail at whether his proposals to use administrative rules - not laws - to double Western grazing fees, change mining laws and reform water rights showed he has the proper judicial temperament.

Hatch said some also warned the president "that any Western senator - Republican or Democrat - might have a hard time voting for Babbitt because of grazing fees and land reform."

On top of that, Clinton would have to nominate another Interior secretary. "That would raise all the same issues, and be contentious as well. If he picked someone concerned about lands and water in the West, the environmentalists would come unglued. If he picked another Babbitt, the West would come unglued," Hatch said.

And all that would happen while the White House wants to focus on health care and while it is handling financial and sexual harassment scandals. That wouldn't help midterm congressional elections - or the 1996 presidential election.

So Hatch says he feels Clinton chose to avoid a fight he didn't need. Similar warnings and maneuvering also sunk Babbitt last year.