Frank Pignanelli & LaVarr Webb: Supreme Court nominations and Utah delegates

As Utah’s Legislature slogs along, wild and crazy politics at the national level are capturing the most public attention. Some Utah congressional leaders are in the thick of it.

What role will Utah Sens. Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee play in the confirmation or lack thereof of a new U.S. Supreme Court justice? 

(Pignanelli) "Supreme Court arguments and decisions are fascinating to a few of us and really pretty boring to most.” — Dan Abrams

I have sympathy for the family of the deceased U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. But it does warm my heart to witness the public expression of respect and admiration by Republicans for a short, swarthy, gregarious Italian.

For 40 years, Sen. Hatch was the "go to” guy for Democrat and Republican presidents in pushing their nominations. Utah's senior senator is not too "go to"-ish this year, especially if the president nominates an East Coast liberal jurist.

The president should exercise his constitutional prerogative and select a replacement for Scalia, but based upon the recommendations detailed by Justice Scalia in a recent opinion. Look for a quality lawyer with public university education, living in the middle sector of the country. This nominee should enjoy the benefit of a practical experience and not the cocoon of academia or a long thread of judgeships. He or she is a centrist (a word rarely used), well respected in legal and community circles.

This strategy sends important signals. The president is willing to work with Republicans on filling the bench. More importantly, a much-needed message is conveyed: Americans do not need to attend an elite university, or live on a coast, to be raised to the highest levels of our government. The entire nation will benefit from such an exercise.

(Webb) Orrin Hatch has been mentioned as a possible Supreme Court appointee over the years, and even today as a “consensus” nominee. That obviously isn’t going to happen, but Hatch will be in the middle of the nomination process.

Mike Lee is a young, scholarly, intellectual conservative senator/attorney with a keen legal mind. One day he could be the nominee of a conservative president, especially if he continues to display his practical, problem-solving side.

It was a mistake for Republicans to say they won’t even consider the president’s nominee. The president should nominate and the Senate should run it through their regular process. It’s highly unlikely the president will choose someone capable of being approved by the Republican Senate. But go through the process. As they say in old movie Westerns, “Have the trial and then hang him.”

Utah’s four U.S. House members are supporting Sen. Marco Rubio for president, while Sen. Hatch is supporting Jeb Bush, and Sen. Lee is staying neutral for now. Why the Utah support for Rubio, and why don’t Donald Trump and Ted Cruz attract more support in Utah?

(Pignanelli) Our congressional delegation is reflecting the habits and preferences of their constituents. They may never admit it, but Utah Republicans have more in common with Barack Obama (commitment to family, appreciation of intelligent discourse, abhorrence of intolerance, etc.) than with Trump. Furthermore, Utahns are not an angry people (it's impossible to stay mad living in this great state). Thus, Cruz has little traction. Our state has a legacy of pragmatism — which explains the affinity for Rubio and Bush.

(Webb) I’m proud of Utahns for not buying the Trump snake oil. He runs third in Utah, behind Rubio and Cruz, among both Republicans and voters in general. Utah might be his worst state in the country. Trump has now criticized the pope. I assume Mother Teresa will be next. I don’t know who’s left for him to ridicule (perhaps God?). If he runs out of living people, I suppose he could turn his vulgar mouth on George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.

Will Utah get a new national monument courtesy of President Obama before year’s end?

(Pignanelli) Although criticized by detractors on the left and right, some politicos believe the Public Lands Initiative pushed by Congressmen Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz prevents such a move. The president could be reluctant to slap down efforts towards compromise and dialogue.

(Webb) The more extreme environmental groups are dismissing the lengthy and comprehensive Public Lands Initiative (PLI) process, giving Obama the excuse he needs to designate a monument.

It will be an action both tragic and disdainful, protecting less land than would the PLI and ignoring local input and concerns. It will further exacerbate the tension and hostility that exists between federal land managers and traditional user groups. If Obama makes the designation, forget about any truce or attempt to find common ground on public lands issues. It will be an ugly fracas, both locally and in the congressional arena. It’s not too late to work through differences on PLI and avoid a disaster.