Two new Utah Supreme Court justices were confirmed Wednesday by the state Senate, the end to a surprisingly thorough and sometimes grueling review of Gov. Mike Leavitt's nominees.
Third District Judge Ronald E. Nehring and Assistant U.S. Attorney Jill N. Parrish fill two vacancies on the state's high court, created with the retirements of Justice Richard C. Howe in December and Justice Leonard H. Russon in May.
Nehring had one vote against his nomination, from Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper. Stephenson declined to explain his vote. "Just say it was based on a lot of constituent feedback and concerns expressed by members of this body," the senator said.
Several senators said during the vote that they also had heard from constituents upset with Nehring over the controversial Utah Judicial Council decision to keep courthouses "weapons-free" zones despite a 2002 law requiring the installation of gun lockers.
Nehring, who signed an order enforcing the judiciary's gun-locker decision, had told the Senate Judicial Confirmation Committee it was "entirely consistent" with the way the law was written. If they didn't like the decision, he said, they could "write down different words."
Senate Majority Leader Mike Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, a member of the committee, said Wednesday that after interviewing Nehring he believed that the decision was not "any flouting of the law as the e-mails said."
Nehring said he didn't want to comment on Stephenson's vote. "It's hard to know what to say about that," he said, praising the other members of the Senate for being "very gracious" about their concerns.
It was the gun locker issue that helped drive the Senate's newfound interest in court nominees. In the past, only the governor spent much time reviewing backgrounds and examining stands on issues.
This time around, the committee chairman, Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, said lawmakers were "vigorous and searching. We tried to leave no stone unturned because we believe the people who sit on our Supreme Court should be the finest in the land."
Both Nehring and Parrish told the Senate Wednesday they believed the process was fair. "I think I will be a better justice for having gone through this confirmation process," Parrish said.
The pair endured nearly seven hours of hearings before the committee this month, facing questions about controversial issues that could come before the state's high court, as well as more personal concerns.
For Nehring, 55, that meant his health. He is undergoing treatment for cancer and is on medical leave as the district's presiding judge. Nehring brought his doctor to the committee's first hearing to detail his treatment and prognosis.
Parrish, 41, was asked whether she had the time to devote to the job as the mother of five young children. The Yale Law School graduate assured the committee her family was very important to her and that she had given that careful consideration before applying.
Neither Nehring nor Parrish had much to say when pressed on such controversial issues as abortion rights and the separation of church and state. Both cited ethical rules that prohibit judges from revealing how they might rule on a given issue.
They both, however, said they believed in judicial restraint and would be cautious about overturning laws passed by the Legislature.
Nehring, a Lutheran, will be the only justice who is not a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the state's predominant religion. Parrish will be the second woman on the five-member panel.
She is expected to be sworn in by the high court quickly to fill the vacancy left by Howe. Nehring, who is taking the seat held by Russon, said he expects to sit in on cases between now and May.
E-MAIL: [email protected] Contributing: Jerry Spangler
Contributing: Jerry Spangler