Oops! Senator's article tells of phantom meeting with Obama nominee
Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah speaking at CPAC 2011 in Washington, D.C. (Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

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 has taken place.

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.

Hatch's office declined to comment on the matter.

But his spokesman J.P. Freire told the Washington Post that Hatch has made clear that he intends to meet with Garland "out of respect for their longtime friendship."

"He looks forward to their meeting and the opportunity to explain his position on the current Supreme Court vacancy," Freire added.

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.

In the article, Hatch praised Garland's "character and credentials." 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)