By Lawrence Hurley
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch wrote in an opinion piece published on Thursday that his meeting with Merrick Garland failed to change his view that the Senate should not act on President Barack Obama's U.S. Supreme Court nominee.
The problem is that no such meeting had yet taken place. Later in the day, the Utah senator issued a statement announcing that he would meet with Garland on Thursday, calling the appeals court judge "an honorable public servant who deserves our respect" but reiterating that the Senate should not act now.
Paul Edwards, executive editor of the Deseret News in Hatch's home state of Utah, said by email the article was a draft that was mistakenly published on newspaper's website, and apologized to Hatch and the newspaper's readers for "this unfortunate error."
"Like many of my Senate colleagues, I recently met with Chief Judge Merrick Garland," Hatch wrote in the piece.
"Our meeting, however, does not change my conviction that the Senate should consider a Supreme Court nominee after this presidential election cycle," Hatch added.
The 82-year-old Hatch, first elected to the Senate in 1976, is the longest-serving Senate Republican and is a long-time and influential member of the Judiciary Committee that considers Supreme Court nominees.
Hatch has joined with the Senate's Republican leaders in asserting that Obama's successor, to be determined in the Nov. 8 presidential election, should fill the vacancy left by the death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia in February.
Democrats have accused Senate Republicans of ignoring their constitutional duties by refusing to consider Garland's nomination.
A copy of the article was archived by Google after the Deseret News removed it. "The electronic publication of this version, awaiting edits from the Senator following his meeting with Judge Garland, was inadvertent," Edwards added.
The article illustrated how unshakeable Republican opposition has been to Obama, a Democrat, appointing a replacement for Scalia. If a Democratic president appoints Scalia's replacement, that would likely end decades of a conservative majority on the court.
Obama nominated Garland on March 16.
Hatch helped break a partisan log jam in the Senate against Garland two decades ago when President Bill Clinton nominated him to an appeals court. Garland won Senate confirmation in 1997.
(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)