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Colorado attorney general says courts face some difficult issues

War against the tobacco industry. Legal fights over a controversial gay rights amendment.

The past few years have been tumultuous in Colorado, and Colorado Attorney General Gale Norton came to Utah Tuesday to update Utah's Federalist Society about issues in Utah's sister state.She has been to Washington, D.C., countless times to represent Colorado, the Centennial State, in the tobacco wars, and she has chaperoned Amendment 2, the "Gay Rights Amendment," through extensive appeals.

Because she has spent much of her time working on these two issues in recent years, Norton is increasingly concerned with the courts' role in deciding important state decisions.

"I believe very much in the democracy, and I think the role of judges is to apply the law," she told a group of about 50 gathered at the Doubletree Hotel in downtown Salt Lake City. "It is going to be a continual struggle with the democratic process to address the difficult questions before us."

In 1990, Norton became the first woman elected as attorney general in Colorado, and she appealed Colorado court decisions to set aside the controversial Gay Rights Amendment approved by the citizens in 1992.

The U.S. Supreme Court, in a "very heated discussion," struck down the amendment, which said the state could not provide "heightened protections" for homosexuals, lesbians and bisexuals.

The court determined the amendment was founded on hatred toward gay people and was so strong in its criticism that Norton believes nothing resembling the amendment can ever pass.

One attendee to Norton's speech said he'd heard proponents for the amendment were preparing another draft. Norton said she hadn't seen one and doubted another could make it through an arduous court battle.

"It was the entire amendment and the idea of the amendment that they disapproved of."

More recently, Norton has been at the forefront of the fight against the federal government's move to take a significant share of the state's negotiated settlement with the tobacco industry.

In a question-and-answer period, she said there is a 50/50 chance the state will see money from the settlement. The climate for settlement changes every week, and the settlement reached may be a watered-down version.

The greatest clue that there may be a settlement is that President Clinton has budgeted for - and is spending - tobacco settlement money, which Norton doesn't like.

"I didn't file this lawsuit to pay for Clinton's child welfare programs," she said.

In her hourlong talk, Norton praised Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, for his support in the tobacco fight. "He's been out willing to support when most are seeking political cover," she said.

"If there were more people that understood the agreement like Sen. Hatch, we would have reached a settlement by now."