Herbert: Religion not a factor for high court pick

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The only non-Mormon justice on the Utah Supreme Court is retiring, but Gov. Gary Herbert said Wednesday that religion is not something he's going to consider when choosing a replacement.

Herbert said at his monthly televised news conference on KUED that he looks for the best judge possible.

"I look at who I think is going to be the best person on the bench," said the governor, who is Mormon. "I never ask whether they're Republican or Democrat. I never ask what their religious denomination is, or persuasion, if they have any at all."

Associate Chief Justice Ronald Nehring, a Lutheran, announced several months ago that he will retire in February after more than 11 years. Republican Gov. Mike Leavitt appointed him in 2003.

The four other justices on the court are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which is based in Utah.

Herbert said he might consider gender diversity when deciding between candidates in "a tie-breaker situation." There are two women on the five-judge panel.

The state Judicial Nominating Commission will send a list of candidates to replace Nehring to the governor in November.

Herbert's spokesman, Marty Carpenter, said the governor hopes to make a decision by December.

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