U.S. Supreme Court Justice to swear in Tom Lee
Gov. Gary Herbert, left, nominates Tom Lee to the Utah Supreme Court during a news conference on Friday May 28, 2010 at the Gold Room at the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City. Lee, 45, was nominated to replace Justice Michael Wilkins, whose term on the expired May 15. (AP Photo/The Salt Lake Tribune, Al Hartmann)

Gov. Gary Herbert has plucked an appointee from one of the Utah's best-known legal family trees to fill a vacancy on the state supreme court.

Herbert announced that Tom Lee, a BYU professor and son of Rex. E. Lee, would replace Michael Wilkins, who left the court on May 15.

"There's been a number of very, very, and I emphasize very good and capable applicants," Herbert said.

Lee, 45, has represented the state in several cases, including the 2000 U.S. Census challenge and several in which he argued against bringing nuclear waste into the state. Despite a career of advocacy before the courts and in front of students, Lee said on Friday that he understands the role of those on the other side of the bench.

"I think the role of a judge is to say what the law is and not what it should be," Lee said.

Lee clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and graduated from the University of Chicago Law School while serving on the managing editorial board of that school's Law Review. He holds a bachelor's degree in economics from Brigham Young University where his father was president. If confirmed by the state Senate, Lee's role in the law will be markedly different from his past experience.

"It's a luxury as a law professor, you get to profess what you think. You get to write about the law in the way that appeals to you. You get to take positions that seem correct to you," he said. "I will now be one voice, and one voice doesn't have any power on an appellate court of five people."

Three of the current justices severed as trial judges in Utah's 3rd District while the fourth -- Jill Parrish -- had not been a judge prior to her time on the state Supreme Court.

The Lee family is steeped in the law. Rex Lee was a U.S. Solicitor General and Tom's brother Mike clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito and is one of two Republican candidates for U.S. Senate. Tom Lee said that while he wishes his brother well in the June 22 primary, he has a different legal personality.

Tom Lee said he's thought about a judgeship for a long time and will let his brother deal with the legislative branch.

"I'll tell you I'm never running for political office. My brother and I are two very different people in that respect," he said.

Chief Justice Christine Durham welcomed Lee, saying that his father gave her the first job she got -- teaching at BYU -- when arriving in Utah.

"This is a circle that's closed for me in a very satisfactory way," she said.

Herbert's appointment of Lee is subject to confirmation by the state Senate. They are expected to meet for an interim session on June 23 though time will be tight to get the proper vetting done.

"Personally, I think we can get this done by the 23rd," said Sen. Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, and chairman of the Judicial Nominating Committee. He said that while the governor has a track record of choosing good candidates, research takes time.

That includes analysis, their own efforts and comments from the public.

"We encourage people to contact us," he said.