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Rolly: Senators' self-interest behind rejection of nominee
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Critics are condemning the Senate Judicial Confirmation Committee's refusal to recommend the confirmation of Gov. Gary Herbert's first minority nomination for a judgeship as a decision based on ethnicity. They say the committee put more weight on the need for trial experience than has been applied in past judicial confirmations.

But I see other motives behind the committee's 4-2 vote against sending Su J. Chon's nomination on to the full Senate, which still intends to vote on her nomination Wednesday despite the committee's refusal to endorse her.

I don't believe the senators who voted against Chon, a Korean-American, have a bias against minorities. Their reasons are more basic: They want to preserve their own self-interests.

Chon was the first minority nominated for a district court judgeship since 2006 and the only minority sent to the Senate by Herbert, who has appointed 25 judges so far during his tenure.

Committee members questioned her trial and litigation experience and worried she lacked experience to be an effective judge.

But if you believe that argument, Supreme Court Justice Christine Durham, who has been chief justice during her long, distinguished career, was insufficiently qualified when she was appointed to the 3rd District Court in the 1970s.

Durham had less experience than Chon, yet she has risen to become one of the most respected jurists in the state.

There are judges currently serving whose experience at the time of their confirmations could have been just as concerning as Chon's to the senators who claimed lack of experience as their hang-up with her. They have proven to be fair and competent jurists.

That's why critics allege a double standard for minorities, particularly in the wake of Senate President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, a member of the committee, questioning Chon on whether certain groups should get special treatment.

Chon answered as though she interpreted the question to mean he was talking about minorities getting special treatment, and she said no. Most observers took the question that way as well, and that led to speculation she was being rejected because she is a minority.

But the question, I maintain, was directed at Chon's current position as the attorney for the state's Office of Property Rights Ombudsman. It's her job to protect small property owners against abuse during condemnation procedures that allow governments to take property for large developments that are in the public interest.

Waddoups is a property manager by profession, which means he represents the interests of large property owners and developers. Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Eagle Mountain, who also voted against Chon's nomination, is a developer.

Both Madsen and Waddoups grilled Chon on her views about property rights and the legal issues surrounding the transfer of properties.

The other two "no" votes were from Senate Majority Leader Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, and Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City.

Jenkins is running for Senate President this year because Waddoups is retiring. He is banking on Waddoups' support in the leadership elections this November. Thatcher is a first-term senator who has aligned himself with Waddoups on most votes and established himself as a team player among the Senate's most strident right-wing faction.

A young senator considered a greenhorn by many colleagues, he will face a challenge from another Republican in two years if rumors are true. If Jenkins becomes the Senate President, Thatcher will want his help.

prolly@sltrib.com

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