This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
The Utah House overwhelmingly passed a resolution calling on the state to go to the U.S. Supreme Court and assert state ownership of federal lands within Utah's borders a lawsuit with a projected cost of $14 million.
"We look at every dollar and try to be wise and measured in what we do," said Rep. Keven Stratton, R-Orem, who presented the resolution as the latest step in the state's journey to gain ownership of tens of millions of acres of federal land.
The measure, which is not binding, would express the sense of the Legislature and the governor that the lawsuit should be filed.
A New Orleans law firm hired by the Commission on the Stewardship of Public Lands issued a legal analysis late last year that concluded Utah could make a case it is entitled to ownership of the federal acreage. The report estimated there would be a $14 million price tag on the effort.
The commission gave the firm the go-ahead to prepare a draft complaint that could potentially be filed by the attorney general.
Rep. Joel Briscoe, D-Salt Lake City, argued that the law firm's analysis was based on a Supreme Court with five conservative justices before Justice Antonin Scalia died last month. If a Democratic president, either this year or next, makes the pick, it's clear what kind of justice will be picked to fill the slot, Briscoe said.
"Who President [Donald] Trump would nominate to the Supreme Court, I think, it's an open question," Briscoe said. "When you vote for this, you're putting your name next to the 'OK' to spend $14 million of state taxpayer dollars to go for a suit that was predicated on having five conservative Supreme Court justices, which may or may not be the case."
The resolution passed the House by a vote of 60-15 and goes to the Senate for further action.