SALT LAKE CITY — Governor Spencer Cox has nominated Utah Court of Appeals Judge Diana Hagen to serve on the Utah Supreme Court.
"I honestly never expected to be here," she said in remarks on Capitol Hill after the governor announced her as his choice for the state's top court. "Governor, thank you for this amazing opportunity."
Judge Hagen is a former assistant U.S. Attorney for Utah who was nominated to the Utah Court of Appeals in 2017 by then-Governor Gary Herbert. She has a good reputation among the legal community, having served as the past president of the Women Lawyers of Utah, worked on dating violence issues and has a strong ranking by the nonpartisan Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission.
"She has been an exceptional judicial leader. She’s always the first one to volunteer whenever there’s a difficult task at hand. She works extremely hard. As a jurist, she’s off-the-charts brilliant," said Utah Supreme Court Chief Justice Matthew Durrant.
Judge Hagen has filled in on Supreme Court arguments when other justices have had to recuse themselves, Chief Justice Durrant said.
For Gov. Cox, this will be his first appointment to the Utah Supreme Court. Judge Hagen is his choice to replace retiring Justice Deno Himonas. If confirmed, she will be the second woman on the panel of five justices.
"I want to make sure that we have somebody whose judicial philosophy matches my own," the governor told reporters on Tuesday. "That’s very important and is one of judicial restraint."
Judge Hagen invoked "judicial restraint" when asked by FOX 13 News what her judicial philosophy is.
"I’m very careful to make sure that I only reach issues that are properly briefed and argued before us, ones that we are able to fully consider and have been fleshed out," she said. "I understand my limited role which is to apply the law as it has been enacted to these specific facts of this particular case."
The Utah Supreme Court is the highest court in the state. What it decides often sets legal precedent and interprets laws passed by the Utah State Legislature. The nomination of Judge Hagen represents the first major appointment by Gov. Cox in shaping Utah's judiciary. His predecessor, Gov. Herbert, was responsible for roughly 75% of Utah's judicial appointments during his 12 years in office.
"I am especially honored to be your first appointment to the Utah Supreme Court. If I’m confirmed I hope I will make you proud," Judge Hagen told the governor.
A governor can nominate a justice, but it is the Utah State Senate who will confirm her. A hearing will be set and public comment will be solicited (it can be confidential). Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, who chairs the Senate's Judicial Confirmation Committee, told FOX 13 News that he believed Judge Hagen is well qualified for the position.
"I don’t expect a lot of opposition, but I’ve been surprised before," he said. "But I’m excited about the choice."
Sen. Weiler noted the importance of the Utah Supreme Court.
"If she’s confirmed, she could be on the Supreme Court for one or two decades," he said. "So of course there will be bigger cases five or 10 years from now. I don’t think we're going totry to pick a nominee for any one particular case that may be coming to the Court in the next few months. I think that would extremely short-sighted of us."
Gov. Cox will get another chance to appoint someone to the Utah Supreme Court later this year with the retirement of Associate Chief Justice Thomas Lee.