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The Senate Judicial Confirmation Committee on Tuesday unanimously approved Utah Court of Appeals Judge John Pearce to fill a vacancy on the Utah Supreme Court.

Pearce is now just one step away — confirmation by the entire Senate — from being sworn in as a justice on the state's high court. That confirmation is expected to take place on Wednesday afternoon.

Pearce, who was nominated by Gov. Gary Herbert to fill a vacancy left after Justice Jill Parrish resigned in August, said after Tuesday's hearing that he was "honored" by the approval from the seven-person committee.

The 46-year-old nominee has been a judge with the Utah Court of Appeals since October 2013.

In a statement to the confirmation committee on Tuesday, Pearce said it was important that judges focus on not only the legal issues of the cases they hear, but on the people who are involved.

"What happens in a courtroom matters," he said. "... For many people, what happens to them in a courtroom can define the rest of their lives. Every litigant deserve judges that understand the importance of their case."

Members of the Senate committee peppered Pearce with questions about the death penalty, diversity and what changes need to be made in how the court system works.

Sen. Karen Mayne, D- West Valley City, referenced a letter of support for Pearce bearing the letterhead of the Church of Jesus-Christ of Latter-day Saints, and asked the nominee how he would separate his personal views from his decision-making on the bench.

Pearce responded by saying that if he wanted to advance a personal agenda, he would not have sought being a judge and would have instead run for Senator.

"I think the metaphor of Lady Justice wearing a blindfold is the best guide," he said. "The law has to be applied even-handedly ... My job with the court is to make sure we are taking the laws ... and applying them evenly."

Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, voiced a concern that Pearce was replacing a woman, and that the five-justice panel would no longer be as diverse. But Pearce said he believes the justices are "more diverse than might appear at first blush."

Committee members also questioned whether Pearce's wife's employment with The Salt Lake Tribune would present any conflict for him, but the nominee told them it does not present any "new conflict" because he once represented the newspaper in court.

"It's not that unique," Pearce told the committee. "Most justices and judges have spouses who work and create conflicts. You just have to be screening yourself off from all those cases [that present conflict]."

Pearce also said he would likely recuse himself from any cases that involve Herbert as a named defendant, because he once served as general counsel to the governor.

Before joining the bench, Pearce was an associate at Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati in Palo Alto, Calif., a shareholder and member of the Executive Committee at Jones Waldo in Salt Lake City, and served as general counsel to Herbert, according to the Utah Court's website. Pearce is an adjunct professor at the S.J. Quinney College of Law at the University of Utah.

He graduated from Cyprus High in Magna, holds a degree in economics from the University of Utah and received his law degree from the University of California, Berkeley.

Pearce and his wife, Jennifer Napier-Pearce, have two sons, Ben and Jonas.

Earlier this year, Herbert named former 3rd District Judge Deno Himonas to fill a vacancy created by the retirement of Utah Supreme Court Justice Ronald Nehring. Himonas was sworn in as a justice in March.