Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, a six-term veteran who once chaired the Senate Judiciary Committee, had always wanted to cap his career by joining the U.S. Supreme Court. But Republicans prefer young justices who can serve long tenures. And, while he remains vital, Hatch is now 73.
So the senator is looking for a conciliation prize, and he appears to have found it.
It is no longer a secret that Hatch is moving aggressively to position himself as the replacement for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. With the scandal involving Gonzales' firing of U.S. Attorneys deepening on a daily basis, there is no longer much question that President Bush is going to need someone new to take charge of the Department of Justice. And Hatch has made little secret of the fact that he thinks he is the man for the job.
No a term-closing stint as Attorney General is not so hot a ticket as a lifelong appointment to the high court. But if there is no place on the bench for him, a steady steam of reports from Capitol Hill insiders says Hatch is letting it be known that he is willing to settle.
Not every Republican is excited by the prospect.
The Senator is not so reliably friendly to Bush as Gonzales. And he has, at times, broken ranks with his fellow Republicans -- Hatch's support of stem-cell research rankles the right, as does the senator's close relationship with Massachusetts Democrat Ted Kennedy, his longtime counterpart on the Judiciary Committee.
But Hatch's slight distance from the White House and from some of the more frenzied members of his own party simply adds to his appeal as a pick for Attorney General. With the Bush administration at its weakest point, a Hatch nomination would be assured of rapid and very possibly unanimous approval by the Senate.
And Utah has a conservative Republican governor, Jon Huntsman, who would name an interim senator. Whoever Huntsman picks would then be positioned to compete in the 2008 election for an opportunity to serve out the last four years of Hatch's term. Considering the political demographics of Utah, the seat would in all likelihood remain in Republican hands. And it would probably be held by a slightly more reliably conservative partisan than Hatch.
Put the pieces together and Bush has in Hatch an appealing prospect to replace Gonzales. And, rest assured, the president is going to need someone soon.
John Nichols' new book is THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism. Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson hails it as a "nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use ofthe 'heroic medicine' that is impeachment with a call for Democraticleaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by thefounders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"