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Utah federal judge approved despite Sen. Mike Lee's 'no' vote

Published March 22, 2012 2:12 pm

Politics • Senator says his dissent was aimed at Obama, not Utah's new federal judge.
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Washington • The U.S. Senate on Thursday approved a new federal judge for Utah, although Sen. Mike Lee opposed the nominee as part of his continued objection to previous appointments by President Barack Obama.

The Senate voted 96-2 — with Lee, R-Utah, and Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., objecting — to elevate Magistrate David Nuffer to a full judgeship, helping to alleviate what court officials call a judicial emergency with vacancies in the federal district.

Despite his no vote, Lee has repeatedly expressed that he thinks Nuffer will make an exceptional judge. Lee supported Nuffer's nomination and voted for him in the Senate Judiciary Committee last October.

Lee has voted against every single judicial and administrative nominee this year, a protest against the president's recess appointment of Richard Cordray to head a new consumer watchdog agency that Lee argues broke the law. The Senate was meeting for less than a minute every few days to block such appointments in a deal with House Republicans.

Obama made the appointments of Cordray and others anyway, and Lee said he would object to every nominee until the White House reversed those recess appointments.

"Among the ways I have chosen to register my objection to these unconstitutional actions is to vote against the president's nominees for district and circuit court judgeships," Lee said in a statement on why he voted against Nuffer. "I did so despite my unequivocal support for Judge Nuffer and my belief that he will be an excellent federal district court judge."

Sen. Orrin Hatch, who pushed Nuffer's nomination, said the former Utah State Bar president has the experience, temperament and integrity to be a great federal judge.

"He's been involved in virtually all aspects of the Utah legal community and is widely respected by lawyers and judges throughout our state," Hatch said. "I am confident that he will continue the tradition of distinguished federal judges serving the people of Utah."

Nuffer had been named magistrate in 1995 to an eight-year term and was subsequently reappointed. Obama nominated him to the full judgeship on June 29.

The American Bar Association rated Nuffer as a well-qualified nominee, its highest ranking for judicial appointees.

Nuffer is appointed to life on the bench and is filling one of two open spots on the state's federal district. Robert Shelby, a commercial and personal injury attorney in Salt Lake City, has been nominated to replace Chief Judge Tena Campbell, who is taking senior status and will handle a reduced case load.

tburr@sltrib.com