Governor says Utah senator would be good on Supreme Court

Senate Judiciary Committee member Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, questions Attorney General Jeff Sessions during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said Thursday he would support Sen. Mike Lee if he was nominated for the U.S. Supreme Court, but he likely wouldn’t name himself as Lee’s replacement if the senator was chosen and confirmed.

Lee and his brother, Utah Supreme Court Justice Thomas Rex Lee, are both on the list of 25 names President Donald Trump is considering for the vacancy left by the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy.

President Donald Trump stand with Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, at the Utah State Capitol Monday, Dec. 4, 2017, in Salt Lake City. Trump traveled to Salt Lake City to announce plans to shrink two sprawling national monuments in Utah in a move that will delight the state’s GOP politicians and many rural residents who see the lands as prime examples of federal overreach, but will enrage tribes and environmentalist groups who vow to immediately sue to preserve the monuments. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Herbert, a Republican, called Mike Lee a constitutional scholar whose background as a clerk for Justice Samuel Alito provides experience for the high court. Lee has been Utah’s junior senator since 2010, when he ousted longtime U.S. Sen. Bob Bennett amid a wave of tea party support.

Lee was an early Trump critic who didn’t vote for him in 2016 but has since repaired his relationship with the president. He told reporters he “would not say no” if asked to serve on the high court.

Thomas Lee was appointed to the state Supreme court in 2010 by Herbert, who called him a “brilliant, brilliant intellect” who doesn’t legislate from the bench.

Thomas Lee, who’s declined to comment, is a former clerk for Justice Clarence Thomas and a Brigham Young University professor.

FILE – This July 19, 2010, file photo, Utah Supreme Court Justice Thomas R. Lee takes his place at the bench after being confirmed by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas at the Matheson Courthouse, in Salt Lake City. Sen. Mike Lee of Utah doesn’t know if he can support Donald Trump but he is praising the billionaire’s suggestion of his brother, Utah Supreme Court Justice Thomas Lee, as a potential for the nation’s highest court. (Francisco Kjolseth/The Salt Lake Tribune, Pool, File )

Rex Lee, father of the two brothers, served as U.S. solicitor general during the Reagan administration.

Herbert said he doesn’t think he’d want the Senate job because it would be more difficult to get things done compared with being a governor.

“It may in fact be a step backward in my mentality,” he said.

Herbert has said he won’t run for re-election in 2020.

In Utah, the governor appoints a replacement, if needed, to serve in the U.S. Senate until the next regular general election, when a new senator is selected to serve the remainder of the term.

In Washington, both sides are mobilizing for a fight over the Supreme Court vacancy, with Republicans pushing for swift action if Trump makes a quick announcement and Democrats wanting to wait until after midterm elections in November.

“I’m looking forward to a little bit of a circus in this selection as Democrats and Republican try to politicize the event, which I think is disappointing,” Herbert said.

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