Senate Judiciary Chairman Hatch acknowledged Thursday he is under pressure by GOP leaders to hold a hearing on a handful of 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals nominations to which the two Democratic senators from Michigan have formally objected.
Traditionally, when senators object to a nominee via a "blue slip," no further action is taken on the nominee.
"I've been directed by the leadership to hold a hearing," Hatch told CongressDaily during a break from a protracted committee markup on asbestos litigation. "And I'm probably going to have to write a letter to the Michigan senators, expressing my viewpoints," Hatch said.
While he declined to detail what the letter would say, Hatch has indicated in the past he would consider holding a hearing.
A Senate GOP aide said it was likely Hatch would make a decision by next week, but that the pressure is an indication of the importance of the judge issue to Republicans.
The battle for the four Michigan nominees is far from over -- and it is far from limited to just the 6th Circuit, which includes the home states of Senate Majority Leader Frist and Majority Whip McConnell.
Even if Hatch holds a hearing over the objections of Michigan Democratic Sens. Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow, there would also be the hurdle of reporting the nominees out of committee for floor action and taking them to the floor.
Saying the Democrats' objections were a misuse of Senate rules, Frist and McConnell took the unusual step of filing a discharge petition this week that would effectively bypass the Judiciary Committee and bring the nominees straight to the floor.
A Senate discharge petition requires only one sponsor and a slot on the calendar for consideration, but senators may object to or filibuster the petition. It is unlikely that Republicans have the votes to overcome a filibuster, GOP aides acknowledged.
A spokesman for Frist said he has not set a date for a floor vote yet, preferring to wait for Hatch's decision.
Stabenow dismissed the GOP action as a political ploy and said she and Levin are seeking to form a bipartisan congressional advisory commission on judges like one formed in Wisconsin several years ago.
"They're trying to bully their way through this," Stabenow said.
"We're just going to continue to propose the Wisconsin bipartisan commission," said Levin.
The Senate GOP move appears to be just the latest effort to find ways to end the time-honored and historically accepted delay by the minority party in order to move President Bush's judicial nominees forward.
Earlier this year, Frist introduced a bill that would reduce over time the number of senators needed to break a filibuster on judicial nominees.
Meanwhile, the Michigan issue is being lobbied heavily. A Michigan branch of Citizens for a Sound Economy staged demonstrations outside Levin's district office over the weekend and outside Stabenow's district office Wednesday, including one man dressed as a judge with his hands tied behind his back symbolizing the inaction.