All-Mormon Supreme Court no problem, Utah chief justice says

Posted: Friday, May 12, 2000

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- When Utah's Supreme Court upheld prayers at government meetings as a legacy of Utah's Mormon heritage, four of the five justices were Mormons.

Now it's an all-Mormon bench.

Chief Justice Richard C. Howe doesn't think that's a problem. The justices' ''own private view on religion really doesn't enter into their decisions on this court,'' Howe told The Associated Press in an interview. ''There may be an exception once in a while, but it would be very subtle.''

Gov. Mike Leavitt's two appointments to the court earlier this year broke a tradition that dates from 1926 of having at least one non-Mormon sit on the high bench, and they underscore the dominance of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Utah affairs.

''Anybody who lives here knows where all the power is,'' says Matt Gilmore, a lawyer who for many years was 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.''

Utah, founded by a church theocracy, is still 70 percent Mormon.

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