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Key court vacancies will be filled soon, Hatch says

SALT LAKE CITY — Two seats on the federal bench in Utah still await appointees, and there is no permanent selection for U.S. attorney for Utah.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, says he expects nominees for key vacancies to be named within the coming months.

There are currently 94 vacancies on federal trial and appeals courts. Those nominations, plus those for U.S. attorneys, have become a political football, but Hatch says he thinks the logjam may open up soon.

At Utah's federal court in Salt Lake City, two judges are on senior status, working with reduced caseloads; one told the White House he was leaving in the spring of 2009.

The U.S. attorney who served under the Bush administration left a year ago.

"The White House has got to push this thing forward and put out a name for us,” said Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah. “It's harming Utah and I don't see an explanation for why it's being slowed down."

The White House has yet to name permanent selections for any of those jobs. It typically relies on a state's senior senator for guidance.

Hatch said he knows what the holdup is but declined to go into details.

"I pretty well do and I'm not really going to talk about it here,” he said. “But we'll just work on it, and we'll get it solved, hopefully, in the near future."

U.S. Chief Justice John G. Roberts recently urged the U.S. Senate to stop holding up judicial confirmations for political reasons, citing overworked judges and mounting vacancies across the country.

"It means the White House has been slow in getting some nominations moved forward,” said Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah. “I'm sure they'll be moving on those soon."

Political observer Dan Jones said gridlock has stalled judicial picks on both sides for years.

"It will always be you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours,” he said. “Mr. Obama is going to have to have some Republican support to get anything done."

"I’m working on it and hopefully in the next few months we'll get some names up and we'll get those things moving," Hatch said.

Those court positions in particular are crucial. Judicial appointments are lifetime appointments and those picks are key to any president's legacy, which helps explain why there's been such a protracted fight over those positions.