A proposal to name Utah’s new federal courthouse after George Sutherland — a “legal pioneer” who capped political and law careers with a 15-year stint on the U.S. Supreme Court — gained momentum Tuesday.
The House Judiciary Committee approved a resolution that asks Utah’s congressional delegation to work to have the new courthouse, scheduled to be finished in March 2014, named after Sutherland.
Rep. Johnny Anderson, R-Taylorsville, and sponsor of HJR9, said he’s discussed the idea with some delegation members and was told “they would appreciate the nudge.” The resolution notes that Sutherland’s example of “humility and integrity in public service is unsurpassed.”
Sutherland immigrated with his parents to Utah from England in 1863 and quit school when he was 12 to help support his family; despite that, he was “well taught by his parents” and at age 17 was accepted into what was then-known as Brigham Young Academy. He graduated in 1881 and then attended the University of Michigan Law School, successfully passing the bar before finishing his degree.
He was 24 in 1886 when he started a law partnership with Sam Thurman, who later became a Utah Supreme Court justice. Their clients ranged from Irish miners accused of lynching to members of the LDS Church charged with violating a federal act outlawing polygamy. He later ran for mayor of Provo as a Liberal Party candidate on an anti-polygamy platform and lost.
Sutherland subsequently became a Republican and served in the Utah Senate, the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. As a senator, Sutherland championed such causes as women’s suffrage — he sponsored the Nineteenth Amendment in the Senate — workers’ compensation, water reclamation, Indian affairs and foreign policy.
Sutherland helped organize the Utah State Bar before beginning his political career; after leaving the Senate, he led the American Bar Association from 1916 to 1917.
He was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court by President Warren G. Harding on Sept. 5, 1922. The Senate confirmed him that same day and he served on the court until January 1938 — the only Utahn ever appointed to the court. As a justice, he authored 295 majority opinions in cases that ranged from a defendant’s right to counsel to prosecutorial misconduct and constitutionality of some provisions of New Deal legislation. He died in 1942.
The federal courthouse is named after Frank E. Moss, who served in the U.S. Senate between 1959 and 1976. The new $226 million building is located directly west of the Moss building, at 351 S. West Temple.