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Posted 24 Feb 2001   For week ended May 07, 2000
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and the LDS Church
Sent on Mormon-News: 08May00

Summarized by Kent Larsen

First Time in 70 Years: High Court All Mormon
Salt Lake Tribune (AP) 7May00 D2
By Paul Foy: Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH -- The LDS Church's dominance of the seats on the Utah Supreme Court isn't a problem, according to Chief Justice Richard C. Howe. Howe's comments were part of an Associated Press story on the most recent two appointments to the Court by Governor Mike Leavitt, who is also an LDS Church member, which broke a tradition dating from 1926 of having at least one non-Mormon on the Court.

"I don't see anything wrong with it," Howe told The Associated Press. "Whether you belong to one church or another shouldn't make any difference on this court. What we want on this court are men and women of good character and legal ability, and their own private view on religion really doesn't enter into their decisions on this court. There may be an exception once in a while, but it would be very subtle."

But the Associated Press was quick to note what might appear to be problems, including a 1993 decision that upheld prayers at government meetings, in which four of the five justices on the Court at the time were Mormon. The Society of Separationists, which brought the case, thought that the Utah constitution, which mandates a greater separation of Church and State than in the Federal constitution, would support their view. Christopher Allen, Utah director for the Society of Separationists, thinks the dominance clearly affects their decisions, "I have zero confidence in them," he said.

The LDS Church's dominance in public affairs in Utah does bother many non-Mormons in the state, "Anybody who lives here knows where all the power is," says Matt Gilmore, 90, former general counsel to the Utah Tax Commission. "You got a Supreme Court that's all Mormon, a Legislature that's practically all Mormon, an executive department headed up by a Mormon and a Republican Party that's all Mormon."

A major test of the Court's independence could come soon because of the Utah ACLU's lawsuit against the LDS Church and Salt Lake City over the sale of a block of Main Street to the Church. Regardless of the lower court's decision in the matter, it is possible that the loosing side will appeal -- to the Utah Supreme Court.


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