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Hatch Hires a Longtime Critic

Politicians are notorious for rewarding their friends with political appointments and influential jobs, but Senate Judiciary Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) has taken a different tack by hiring a former foe of his handling of then-President Bill Clinton’s judicial nominees.

Thomas Jipping, an activist and legal scholar, said he started working as a “counselor” on judicial nominees and other legal matters in Hatch’s personal office last week — following a long nonprofit career in which he routinely took Hatch to task in editorials and other news articles for being weak-kneed in the battle against what he called “activist judges.”

Ironically, in the Clinton years, Jipping frequently urged Hatch to block the Democratic president’s judicial nominees. With President Bush now in office, Senate Republicans are now routinely criticizing Democrats for trying to “obstruct” nominees.

Both Hatch and Jipping, meanwhile, say his previously strident criticism of the Judiciary chairman is now water under bridge. But his well-known conservative screeds against other Republican leaders are likely to make Jipping tread lightly in the halls of the Capitol.

As director of the conservative Free Congress Foundation’s Center for Law and Democracy for 12 years, Jipping often criticized fellow Republicans. He accused Senate GOP leaders in an Oct. 20, 1999, Web article of being “generally weak, afraid of being called names, and in the past have backed down from most confrontations.”

He also wrote an article in 2000 titled “Senate Republican Leaders Do Not Care About the Effect of Judges.”

More recently, as a senior fellow in legal studies for Concerned Women for America, Jipping warned in a March 8 Congressional Quarterly article that Senate Republican leaders would be held accountable by grassroots conservatives if they failed to press forward with some of President Bush’s most embattled nominees, such as Miguel Estrada, who earlier this month pulled himself out of the running for a spot on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

“This had better be a march-to-victory strategy, rather than going down waving the white flag,” Jipping told CQ.

Still, Jipping reserved much of his most heated rhetoric for Hatch. In an Oct. 6 op-ed titled “Senator Hatch Has Let the Country Down,” Jipping accused Hatch of abandoning a pledge to weed out “activist judges,” whom he described as misinterpreting the Constitution to find justification for abortion rights and the banning of school prayer.

“Mr. Hatch is currently trying to trade controversial appeals court nominees — for the district court appointment of a personal friend,” Jipping wrote.

In another article published in Citizen magazine in August 2000, Jipping excoriated Hatch for voting for “a nominee in Hawaii who supported homosexual marriage, a nominee in Washington state who sued to keep voters from banning special rights for homosexuals, and recently cast the deciding vote to move two radical appeals court nominees out of the Judiciary Committee.”

During the 1990s, Jipping also pushed Hatch and then-Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) to more aggressively oppose Clinton’s judicial nominees, saying the fate of the country’s judiciary was at stake.

“If [Hatch] wants to cut deals with the liberals and sell out his own vote, that’s his business. But now the ball is in Senator Lott’s court,” Jipping said in an Oct. 13, 1999, article on the Free Congress Foundation Web site. “Lott has a great opportunity to — clarify what Republicans stand for, and to demonstrate that they are willing to walk their talk. He can do this by defeating two of the most radical judicial nominees before the Senate.”

It’s an argument that some Democratic activists note is eerily similar to that of Senate Democrats who have blocked many of Bush’s nominees on the belief that they are “activist judges” who would use their conservative ideology to warp the U.S. Constitution and roll back Democratic priorities such as abortion rights.

“It’s an impressive feat for Mr. Hatch to find a staffer as far out of the mainstream as the extreme right-wing judges he’s so intent on confirming,” said NARAL Pro-Choice America spokesman David Seldin. “It’s a long trip from here to the planet where Orrin Hatch’s treatment of Clinton nominees was not obstructionist enough.”

Jipping, however, never explicitly advocated filibusters of judicial nominees — a strategy Democrats have used against three of President Bush’s judges and have threatened against several more.

Jipping said in an interview this week that Senate Democrats now are distorting his and other conservatives’ arguments against activist judges — whom he described in Citizen magazine as “typically liberal and secular.”

Jipping said that his criticism of Hatch and advocacy of aggressive opposition to “activist judges” is not out of step with his new job, which will include helping Hatch to strategize ways to push through Bush’s judicial nominees over the objections of Democrats.

“It was very gratifying to me that Senator Hatch respected the principles I’ve consistently stood for,” Jipping said of his past criticism of his new boss.

He also said he anticipated that the bulk of his work in Hatch’s office would involve more legal policy issues, such as class-action legislation, rather than judges. “I’m not just judges,” Jipping explained.

Hatch said he was happy to have Jipping’s “very bright, very strong mind” on his team.

Of Jipping’s old job, Hatch said, “He worked for a very powerful group of people in this town, and he was basically representing their point of view. I respect that, but I have to say, there were times when I got a little irritated, but I know they were probably irritated with me as well.”

Hatch also noted that Jipping’s criticism, while valuable, did not affect his decision to vote for a majority of Clinton’s judicial nominees.

“He didn’t win on that one, as you know,” said Hatch. “I put a lot of Clinton judges through, and it was the right thing to do.”

The chairman also noted that he appreciates dissenting viewpoints among his staff.

“If the only people you have around you agree with you on everything, you won’t be a very effective legislator,” he said.

But Hatch said he expects Jipping to cease being a dissenter once the chairman makes a decision after hearing from a variety of aides.

“Once I make a decision, then I expect them to be with me,” he said of his staff.

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