Washington » President Barack Obama on Wednesday named Utahn Scott Matheson Jr. to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, elevating the former law school dean and son of a two-term governor to the appeals court covering Utah and five other states.
If confirmed by the Senate, Matheson, 56, a former U.S. attorney for Utah, would take the seat vacated by another Utahn, Michael McConnell, who resigned to teach at Stanford University.
In announcing the nomination, Obama said Matheson was a perfect fit.
"Scott Matheson is a distinguished candidate for the 10th Circuit court," Obama said. "Both his legal and academic credentials are impressive and his commitment to judicial integrity is unwavering. I am honored to nominate this lifelong Utahn to the federal bench."
Matheson, a Democrat and former dean of the University of Utah School of Law, is known for his expertise in constitutional and evidentiary law. News of the nomination drew applause from both sides of the political aisle.
"I approve of that nomination. Scott is a very fine fellow," said Sen. Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican and former chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. "He is well equipped and I think very learned for that position."
Hatch said he would help shepherd Matheson through the Senate confirmation process.
Matheson issued a brief statement saying he is "deeply honored by this nomination and very appreciative to the President for this possibility to serve."
Mike Zuhl, a friend who worked on Matheson's 2004 unsuccessful gubernatorial campaign, said that everything Matheson has done in his life seems to have prepared him for the judgeship.
"You will not find, I think, a finer candidate to be an appellate judge," Zuhl said. "Scott Matheson has an outstanding intellect and is a renowned legal scholar with the perfect temperament to be a great judge."
Matheson, the son of former Utah Gov. Scott Matheson Sr., lost his bid against Jon Huntsman Jr. for the governor's office in his lone political campaign. His brother, Jim Matheson, is Utah's lone Democratic member of Congress.
Steve Owens, president of the Utah State Bar, said Scott Matheson would make Utah proud. "I can tell you I've heard of no other names being raised" as potential candidates, Owens said. "He was sort of a consensus guy. The job was made for him and him for the job."
Todd Taylor, the executive director of the Utah Democratic Party said Scott Matheson's appointment carries on a family tradition since his late father was known for reorganizing the state's courts. The state court system's flagship building is named after Scott Matheson Sr.
"It's thrilling," Taylor said of the news, "and it truly takes advantage of one of our best minds."
Matheson was a Rhodes Scholar and earned degrees from Stanford University, Oxford and the Yale Law School. The 10th Circuit covers Utah, Colorado, Oklahoma, Kansas, New Mexico and Wyoming.
Matt Canham contributed to this report.