Washington • The U.S. Senate on Wednesday unanimously confirmed Utah Court of Appeals Presiding Judge Carolyn McHugh to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, making her the first woman from Utah to serve on the federal appellate panel.
McHugh won wide support from the Senate — 98 senators voted for her and none against — after her nomination from President Barack Obama had languished for nearly 10 months. When the Senate failed to act last year, Obama had to resubmit her name and start the process over.
Utah’s senators praised McHugh throughout the confirmation hearing and on the Senate floor this week.
“She’s going to be great,” said Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch. “She’s a very fine woman, and I think she’ll be a great addition to that court. I think highly of her.”
Sen. Mike Lee, a Utah Republican who had vetted McHugh for the state appellate court when he served as general counsel to then-Gov. Jon Huntsman, agreed she would be an excellent addition to the federal court.
“I found her then and I found her this time to be an outstanding candidate for judicial office,” Lee said.
McHugh was rated “unanimously well qualified” by the American Bar Association, the highest ranking the organization gives. Her supporters and former colleagues say it’s a testament to her work ethic.
McHugh won her first jury trial in the early 1980s, for example, when she was eight-and-a-half months pregnant.
“She bucked up and she did a hell of a job,” said attorney Bruce A. Maak, who worked with McHugh on that construction-dispute case and many more in her 18-year career at Salt Lake City’s Parr Brown Gee & Loveless.
Maak, who still works for the firm, said McHugh has “extraordinary” analytical and writing skills, a great wit and ample humility. She wrote a version of Twas the Night Before Christmas every year for the firm’s holiday party, roasting the partners.
“Because of the gap between her ability and her perception of her ability, she always worked too hard,” said Maak, who was delighted at her Senate confirmation. “She’s a damn good person. I’m 67 now and I’ve seen a lot of judges in my day. You don’t find too many that have her mix of talents who get through the political process.”
McHugh, who was born in 1957 in Pennsylvania, earned her bachelor’s and law degrees at the University of Utah, and has been active in several causes, including Voices for Utah Children, Catholic Community Services of Utah, the Legal Aid Society of Salt Lake as well as previously teaching at the U. law school.
While McHugh’s confirmation took longer than expected, it wasn’t because of any controversy on her part. In fact, her first Judiciary Committee hearing was a jovial affair after Lee introduced the nominee, noting she had admitted that as a child she hit her brother with a hockey stick when he shook her bed following a viewing of “The Exorcist.”
Once confirmed, Lee had joked then, “We hope that the hockey stick will be used only sparingly.”
Matt Canham contributed to this story.