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Utah Supreme Court to rule on gerrymandering lawsuit on Thursday

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Utah Supreme Court to rule on gerrymandering lawsuit on Thursday


A year to the day since the Utah Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a case testing the extent of the Legislature’s ability to gerrymander political boundaries and rewrite voter-approved initiatives, the justices have made their decision and will issue their opinion in the case Thursday.

At the heart of the issue is the lawsuit filed by a the League of Women Voters, Mormon Women for Ethical Government and a group of Salt Lake County voters who contend the Legislature gerrymandered the state’s congressional districts, carving the most populous and liberal county into four safe Republican districts and depriving them of congressional representation.

The redistricting, they contend, flew in the face of the Better Boundaries ballot initiative, approved by voters in 2018, creating a politically independent redistricting commission and attempting to impose guidelines that would prevent the Republican-dominated Legislature from slicing and dicing areas for political advantage.

The Legislature rewrote that law, watering it down to the point where the maps provided unanimously by the independent commission were merely recommendations that the Legislature could ignore the commission and draw the lines as they saw fit.

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Attorneys for the Legislature argued in the lower court and before the justices last year that the Constitution vests lawmakers with the power to redistrict and the courts don’t have the power to question or alter the outcome. If voters don’t like the maps, they should vote out the legislators who drew them, the lawyers argued.

If the Supreme Court rules the maps were invalid, they could send the issue back to a lower court or tell the Legislature to redraw the congressional boundaries (the plaintiffs in the suit did not challenge any of the legislative districts). New boundaries could not take effect until the 2026 election.

“From our perspective, we’ve been consistent for over seven years in saying voters should pick politicians, not the other way around,” Katie Wright, executive director of Better Boundaries, said on Wednesday. “We’re hopeful the court comes to the same conclusion.”

But the larger issue that arose during those Supreme Court arguments: Do legislators have the power to fundamentally undo ballot-passed voter initiatives? Or does a provision of the Utah Constitution stating that “All political power is inherent in the people … and they have the right to alter or reform their government” give the courts the power to step in when legislators reverse the will of voters?

Justice Paige Petersen pointed out during arguments last year that, if lawmakers can undo every initiative passed by voters, the constitutional provision giving power to the people becomes meaningless.

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“When do the people have the last word?” Petersen asked. “You’re saying they can’t have the last word through the initiative process. People structurally don’t ever have the last word.”

Justice John Pearce suggested that courts could exercise a higher level of scrutiny in instances when legislators fundamentally change a ballot measure that would “alter or reform their government,” as they did in this case.

Should the justices wade into that issue, it could have impacts beyond the gerrymandering lawsuit. In addition to the Better Boundaries initiative in 2018, voters passed two other ballot measures — one legalizing medical cannabis in the state and one expanding Medicaid coverage to more low-income Utahns.

The Legislature significantly altered all three.

If Pearce’s theory prevails, the Legislature may be constrained from taking similar measures in the future.

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This story is breaking and may be updated.



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Terry Tempest Williams: At my Utah home, I stand in the terrible beauty of climate chaos

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Terry Tempest Williams: At my Utah home, I stand in the terrible beauty of climate chaos


Erosion is happening before our eyes. I took pictures on June 21 to remember this moment that is now commonplace worldwide, people meeting extreme weather at home — in our case, Castle Valley, Utah. Add other pictures of most of Grand County flooding, including downtown Moab and you have a more complete picture of the week we had two flash floods within days of each other.

Highway 124, locally known as the “River Road,” looked like the first day of creation as dozens and dozens of pink sediment-laden waterfalls were cascading off red rock cliffs reaching the Colorado River in seconds. I didn’t know there could be that much free falling water in the desert in times of drought.

San Juan County also experienced violent flash floods that reshaped and redistributed sand and land within the Valley of the Gods that no god of flesh or stone could control.

Brooke, my husband, and I stood on the berm that has protected our house from these seasonal floods watching in awe the velocity and force of Placer Creek’s rushing red water, now two torrents rerouted by the contours of the land like a band of wild horses split in two, galloping down the west and east sides of our home. It was a terrible beauty, adding a punishing depth to my own definition of awe.

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(Terry Tempest Williams) A flash flood in Castle Valley on June 21, 2024.

The roar of the water was deeper than sound, it was a bodily pounding of rolling rocks and collapsing walls of washes, now, cutting and clogging arroyos with debris until another wave of water ambushed the fallen trees, most of them uprooted junipers with broken branches being flushed down valley until they were abandoned somewhere crossing a flooding Miller Lane onward to Castle Creek below.

Local crews made up of neighbors worked late into the night trying to clear roads. But the road where we live, mid-valley, took two days before the settled water dried and we could resume our lives. Every living thing from sage to the grooved trunks of cottonwoods to our own gardens was draped and drowning — days later caked and baked in burnt-orange mud.

We’ve had flash floods before, the last one at twilight on October 2, 2022. I remember because Brooke was healing from open-heart surgery. As he grabbed a shovel and began digging an alternative path for the water pouring over our berm to follow, I found myself screaming above the roar for him to come inside. There was nothing he could do, nothing anyone can do in those moments of earth being pummeled and swept away. It is too late for sand bags, all you can do is watch and retreat to a safe place where you wait out the storm — sleepless through the night until morning comes. At sunrise, an uneasy silence settles in among the devastation. You walk outside, squinting until your eyes adjust to searing light exposing the ravages. It is here you embrace the paradox that the forces responsible for this red rock desert of buttes and mesas, hoodoos and arches, in all its erosional beauty, is the very thing that threatens to destroy your home inside it.

Flash floods come and go in desert country. Ron Drake reported last week in “Castle Valley Comments,” that “Frank Mendonca of Castleton, who keeps a strict record of the weather and flooding … recorded the rainfall at 6.10 inches per hour on June 21 and 6.62 inches per hour June 27.”

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But these last two flash floods felt different, just as the climatologists have warned, especially in drought. Scientists say floods will become more frequent, more intense and more catastrophic in scope and scale. And in the American Southwest, their predictions are coming to pass. We are ground zero for climate chaos be it extreme heat, extreme floods and as happened within Pre-Puebloan cultures: extreme displacement. It is now understood that the “Ancient Ones” did not disappear as we were taught decades ago, but left the Colorado Plateau and migrated to the Rio Grande Valley due to the megadrought of 1,200 years ago. We are experiencing this once again.

We tend to think geologic change occurs over millions of years. This is true. But it is also true, change occurs as a cataclysmic force lasting seconds, minutes. The first flash on June 21 was the result of a 10-minute microburst — a downpour so sudden, so intense it exceeded the annual rainfall for June more than two times over. A double rainbow arched over the Colorado River. The two rainbows framed darkness inside, black space known as “Alexander’s Band,” the result of a certain angle of light reflected and refracted through water droplets in the air — scientific and biblical.

In these moments, one wonders what can be done other than accept and adapt to changing landscapes in a changing climate on a planet in peril. We now live in the liminal space between the predictable and unpredictabilities of a world on fire.

In a state like Utah, the realities of climate change are still being denied and debated.

We have seen where we turn for guidance when our state legislators were confronted in 2023 by our threatened, terminal Great Salt Lake. The making of brave public policies preparing for an uncertain future was set aside in favor of prayer. I am not saying prayer isn’t important in times of crisis. And who can say Great Salt Lake didn’t momentarily rise in our two years of record-breaking precipitation because of prayers statewide? But we need something more reliable than god. By that I mean, to quote my great-grandmother Vilate Romney, “Faith without works is dead.”

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We must engage, engage, engage in the climate crisis that is the bedrock of all other crises — including wars. Climate instability is not for future generations to solve. It is ours to reckon with now. It is here and it is flooding our lives with chaos and burning up our dreams, not just for our species, but all life on Earth. Anything short of visionary leadership on all fronts is unacceptable — from our neighborhoods to our schools, from our religious institutions to our elected public officials. It must be all hands on deck.

We have entered the era of ecological and spiritual awakening. We can speak up, we can act out of the urgency of our broken hearts and we can vote for climate-eyed leaders.

(Terry Tempest Williams) Writer Terry Tempest Williams stands near her home in Castle Valley after a series of flash floods.

This is not just about us, here, now, this is about a future for those we love, and our future descendants who deserve, alongside the descendants of all manner of creatures, the right to flourish as we have, long after our bodies are buried in and sprinkled upon the Earth.

What do we have to lose? Everything we depend on from water, to clean air, to the beauty of the world that surrounds us that is contingent on peace: peace of mind and peace at home from Grand County, Utah, to Israel to Gaza to Ukraine to the Congo and Sudan. Conflicts are overcome by looking into one another’s eyes and acknowledging what we share, the belief that we can do better.

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We can face the truth of where we stand, if we do it together. I was standing ankle-deep in mud that behaved like quicksand wondering how I was going to get back to the house. I was stuck and sinking. I turned around and there was my neighbor, Mary O’Brien, covered in mud, herself, coming to check on us. She gave me her hand and pulled me out. We laughed at both the absurdity and severity of where we found ourselves. Placer Creek had taken down their fences and was racing through their property. We walked back to the house talking about how our community might design a flood plan with catch basins — and that, perhaps, our land needs to become a public commons as a possible flood plan. It was a generative conversation. Despair is when you feel you have no options.

We have options. We can reimagine the world differently. “What can we do?” may not be the most important question we can ask, but rather, “What is needed here?”

The poet-farmer Wendell Berry writes, “We have lived by the assumption that what was good for us would be good for the world … We have been wrong. We must change our lives, so that it will be possible to live by the contrary assumption that what is good for the world will be good for us … We must recover the sense of the majesty of the creation and the ability to be worshipful in its presence. For it is only on the condition of humility and reverence before the world that our species will be able to remain in it.”

Last night, I needed a perspective beyond the presidential debate, beyond the Supreme Court rulings of stripped environmental regulations and immunity for a king; and beyond the fluff of “Bridgerton.” I needed a vantage point that doesn’t distract me from what hurts, but reminds me why it hurts. I sought the counsel of the Colorado River.

Walking with the river calmed my angst and sent my anxiety downriver. I have walked these eroding and flooding banks countless times in the 25 years we have lived here through deaths, disappointments and revelations, honoring the internal changes as well as the external ones in a landscape that remains resilient.

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Looking up at the cliffs, even they are not a given. Rockslides are part of their solid beauty. Two days earlier, sitting on our porch, I heard what I thought was a bomb — I looked up and a part of the cliff calved from Porcupine Rim tumbling down the hillside, leaving a white rectangle of exposed Windgate Sandstone. Nothing is certain but the moment at hand.

I want to be present to the times we are living in — not in fear, but in awe followed by conscious actions that can alleviate the pain we are experiencing, not just for our species, but all life on Earth. We are witnesses to cataclysmic change.

No matter how hard these times may be and become — life flows forward. I walked with the river for as far as I could before the canyon walls narrowed and night descended. Walking upriver, I noted first stars before returning home.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Great Salt Lake advocate and activist author Terry Tempest Williams thanks the Salt Lake Library audience Saturday, August 26, 2023 after Williams and Brigham Young University assistant professor of ecosystem ecology Ben Abbott joined Salt Lake County mayor Jenny Wilson for a discussion about the Great Salt Lake.

Terry Tempest Williams is the author of more than 20 books, most recently, “Erosion — Essays of Undoing.” She is writer-in-residence at the Harvard Divinity School and divides her time between Utah and Massachusetts.

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The Salt Lake Tribune is committed to creating a space where Utahns can share ideas, perspectives and solutions that move our state forward. We rely on your insight to do this. Find out how to share your opinion here, and email us at voices@sltrib.com.



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NBA Trade Rumor: Utah Jazz want Brandin Podziemski in Warriors trade?

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NBA Trade Rumor: Utah Jazz want Brandin Podziemski in Warriors trade?


According to Tim MacMahon, Brandin Podziemski would need to be a part of a potential Lauri Markkanen trade for it to happen.

At the 46:11 mark, Lowe asks MacMahon what’s the price for Markkanen. MacMahon says that “with educated speculation” he says that Brandin Podziemski. “I do think that if Podziemski is not in the deal, there wouldn’t be the deal”

Lowe then responds “So Podziemski and 3-4 Warriors 1st round picks and swaps unprotected, betting against the Warriors going forward with Steph aging and Markkanen as the guy, and Draymond aging as well.”

This matches the rumors we’ve heard and makes you wonder if this is holding up a potential trade. Podziemski was a great rookie for the Warriors and could be a nice part of the Utah Jazz for years to come. On top of that, it’s likely the Warriors want to field the most competitive team they can for Steph Curry as he continues towards his eventual retirement. Are they pressed to make something happen? Markkanen would absolutely put the Warriors back into playoff contention and would make the final years of Steph Curry’s career much more interesting. The question is, are the Jazz willing to make this happen?

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MacMahon also mentions that other teams think that Markkanen extending makes it more likely for Utah to get the pieces they want. It certainly feels like the Warriors are pushing for a trade now while other potential suitors are waiting for an extension to happen. They mention the Spurs during the podcast. Perhaps they’re the team wanting him to be under a long-term contract?



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Utah football gets commitment from Hawaii athlete Mana Carvalho

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Utah football gets commitment from Hawaii athlete Mana Carvalho


The Utah Utes football program got its second commitment in the 2025 recruiting cycle from Hawaiian powerhouse Kahuku High School on Friday, as Red Raiders athlete Mana Carvalho announced his pledge to the program.

Listed by 247 Sports at 5-foot-11 and 165 pounds, Carvalho chose Utah over Arizona, Boise State and Nevada, joining Kahuku teammate Max Fonoimoana in becoming a future Ute after Fonoimoana announced his commitment on June 16.

Senior Utah defensive tackle Aliki Vimahi also went to Kahuku, and Fonoimoana’s brother Brock is slated to join the Utes following an expected return from a church mission next year after signing with them before departing for Honduras.

Carvalho becomes the 15th prospect to be committed to Utah as part of its 2025 recruiting class.

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On Friday, another Kahuku player, safety Aiden Manutai, announced his commitment at the same time as Carvalho, choosing Cal over Arizona, Nebraska, Washington and Tennessee.



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