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Cox makes historic nomination to the Utah Supreme Court

Posted at 12:24 PM, Jun 28, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-28 19:22:16-04

SALT LAKE CITY  — Governor Spencer Cox has made a historic nomination to the Utah Supreme Court.

He named Utah Court of Appeals Judge Jill Pohlman as his choice to replace retiring Associate Chief Justice Thomas Lee. If confirmed, Judge Pohlman would bring the Utah Supreme Court to a majority of women justices. She would serve alongside recently confirmed Justice Diana Hagen and Justice Paige Petersen (the two men on the Court would be Justice John Pearce and Chief Justice Matthew Durrant).

"I sit here and look at my two daughters who get to look up at their mom and get to look up at a Court and say gender is not a barrier to getting on the Court or to getting in certain positions," Judge Pohlman said of the historic nomination. "We need women’s voices and I think this is just a confirmation that women should serve and women should express their views."

But Gov. Cox repeatedly emphasized that it was Judge Pohlman's qualifications and experience that put her there through her years as an attorney, a district court judge and then on the Court of Appeals.

"Judge Pohlman is the very best," he told reporters.

Chief Justice Durrant called it "fortuitous" that it would be a majority woman court.

"Gov. Cox has made his last two selections purely based on the merits, qualifications and experience of the individuals he has nominated," he said.

While she agreed with Judge Pohlman's qualifications, Lt. Governor Deidre Henderson still acknowledged the historic selection.

"It is incredible and I am thrilled about the historic nature of her nomination," she told FOX 13 News.

Judge Pohlman's nomination comes at a critical time for the Utah Supreme Court, which will be expected to consider some major issues facing the state. Lawsuits challenging redistricting, transgender rights and abortion rights will ultimately wind up before the justices.

On Monday, a judge in Salt Lake City's 3rd District Court granted a temporary restraining order blocking Utah's ban on elective abortions from being enforced. He acknowledged the case might "go upstairs," referencing the Supreme Court's chambers in the Matheson Courthouse. In a separate hearing, a judge fast-tracked a lawsuit challenging Utah's ban on transgender children playing school sports consistent with their gender identity. That case is also expected to go before the high court at some point.

Gov. Cox acknowledged to FOX 13 News that the high-profile cases did factor into his decision to nominate Judge Pohlman. Her judicial philosophy matches his own.

While a governor can appoint a justice, the Senate confirms them. Asked if he plans to inquire about major cases, Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, who chairs the Judicial Confirmation Committee, told FOX 13 News: "Absolutely."

"Our state constitution says there is no partisan test for judges and so we have to kind of be careful," Sen. Weiler explained. "Most of these judges are kind of coached and they know that if we ask them about a case that they may come before them, they punt on that. I think that’s appropriate. But we can probe them on judicial philosophy and judicial interpretation and hypotheticals and things like that."

Judge Pohlman declined to answer a question on the equal rights provision of Utah's constitution, something that has been heavily cited in litigation in state court on the abortion trigger law.

"That’s going to be something that comes before the Court," she told reporters. "But I will assure you I do not predetermine cases, and I will think very hard about the cases that are before me. I will take great care. I will uphold the law."

Judge Pohlman will face confirmation hearings in July. The Utah State Senate will also solicit public comment as it does for all judicial nominees.