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Hatch comes up short on judgeship

Published November 22, 2004 12:57 am

BYU counsel Thomas Griffith can't allay Democrats' doubts
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2004, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

WASHINGTON - Sen. Orrin Hatch's last-ditch push to get BYU counsel and former Senate attorney Thomas Griffith confirmed to the federal bench failed Saturday, brought down by questions over a lapsed law license, his candor on a bar application and views on women's athletics.

Hatch mounted an intense lobbying effort at the close of Congress, holding a long-postponed hearing last week and making personal appeals to his colleagues to try to move forward Griffith's nomination to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

He has said he will ask President Bush to renominate Griffith, but some wonder whether the White House has the stomach for another fight over the candidate.

As chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Hatch was able to get 101 of Bush's 129 judicial nominees confirmed by the Senate. Two were withdrawn.

Concerns were raised about a three-year lapse in Griffith's law license while he was counsel for the Senate, which he said was an oversight that he deeply regretted.

The license suspension, which he said was the result of a clerical error causing his dues to go unpaid, continued to be an issue after he took the job as general counsel at Brigham Young University. Democrats released correspondence between Griffith and the Utah Bar Association in which Griffith said he thought his license from Washington, D.C., would be honored in Utah.

It would not, the attorney for the bar association wrote. The best remedy, she said, would be for Griffith to take the bar examination to get a Utah license. Griffith registered for the exam, but never took the test.

Also of concern for Democrats was an answer Griffith provided on his exam application, where he indicated that he had never had his license suspended, although his Washington law license had been suspended.

Griffith also came under fire from liberal watchdog groups that objected to his views on Title IX, the federal law meant to ensure equal opportunity for women in athletics. As a member of a Title IX task force, Griffith opposed a rule that would require opportunities for female college athletes to be proportionate to their makeup of the student body.

Griffith could not be reached for comment Saturday, but during a Senate hearing last week he said he never considered the administrative suspension in Washington to be related to gaining his Utah license and that "I never engaged in the unlawful practice of the law."

There remains a slim chance that he could be confirmed.

Congress may return in December if the House and Senate can reach a deal on reforming the CIA and other intelligence agencies. That could give Hatch one last chance to get Griffith before the Senate, but that is unlikely.

Hatch twisted arms to get the White House to nominate Griffith in the first place, and the decision has embarrassed the administration, Manuel Miranda said. Miranda shepherded nominees through the Senate for Hatch and then Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist before being forced out after he surreptitiously accessed Democratic strategy memos through Senate computers.

Given the problems raised by the nomination and Hatch's lack of leverage - he is turning over the chairmanship of the Senate Judiciary Committee - the White House may be reluctant to put Griffith forward again, Miranda said.