Senate Judiciary advances Utah nominee, hurdles await
Published: November 14, 2013 03:43PM
Updated: November 14, 2013 11:24PM
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State Court of Appeals Judge Carolyn B. McHugh has beenconfirmed by the U.S. Senate to take a spot on the federal 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver.

Washington • So far, Utah’s Carolyn McHugh faces no opposition to her nomination to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, but her confirmation may be held up over an unrelated partisan fight.

McHugh, the presiding judge of the Utah Court of Appeals, earned praise by several senators on Thursday as the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously advanced her nomination.

“I know a first-rate nominee when I see one,” Hatch said, noting McHugh would have a short learning curve once confirmed because of her Utah experience.

But getting to a final Senate vote on McHugh could take a while as she and President Barack Obama’s other nominees become a pawn in a battle over the Obama administration’s response to the terrorist attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, and an effort by Democrats to fill spots on the D.C. Court of Appeals.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., has said he will block confirmation of any Obama nominees until the administration makes witnesses to the consulate attack available for congressional hearings. A single senator can delay a vote on a nominee.

Hatch said he doesn’t believe Graham would hold up McHugh, “but I don’t know.”

“I’ll talk to him more if it becomes a problem,” the Utah Republican said after Thursday’s hearing.

Meanwhile, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., called out Republicans for blocking three women nominees in a row for the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.

GOP senators have said the caseload for that court — largely seen as a stepping stone for the Supreme Court — isn’t high enough to warrant filling a vacant spot, but Democrats say that the 10th Circuit, where McHugh would go, has fewer pending appeals.

The 10th Circuit, which covers Utah as well as five other states, has 20 active and senior judges and 1,341 pending appeals, Leahy said, while the D.C. Circuit has 14 active and senior judges and 1,479 appeals in the queue.

“The 10th Circuit has the lowest caseload of pending appeals per judge in the country,” Leahy said. “And it will go even lower once its two vacancies are filled.”

That said, Leahy won’t oppose McHugh and wants Republicans to come around to fill judicial vacancies on the D.C. Circuit.

Hatch says Leahy’s numbers are misleading since he didn’t take into consideration what cases the D.C. Circuit has already dealt with. The 10th Circuit, the Utah senator says, handles cases as complex as the appellate court in Washington, but doesn’t have as many simple administrative appeals as the D.C. court.

McHugh, who wasn’t present for the Judiciary Committee business meeting, would, if confirmed, be the first woman from Utah to serve on the 10th Circuit Court.

tburr@sltrib.com