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Justice Thomas Lee, once on Trump’s short list, is retiring from Utah Supreme Court

The brother of Sen. Mike Lee says he will step down from the court on July 31.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Associate Chief Justice Thomas Lee makes a comment during oral arguments in the Utah Supreme Court on Friday, Sept. 16, 2016. Lee announced his retirement on Thursday, Jan. 20, 2022.

Thomas Lee is retiring as an associate chief justice on the Utah Supreme Court after 12 years, the state court system announced Thursday.

Lee, the brother of Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, announced his retirement in a letter sent to Gov. Spencer Cox on Wednesday. Thomas Lee plans to step down from his post on July 31, he said in the letter.

“It has been an honor to serve the people of the state of Utah as a member of the Supreme Court,” Lee wrote. “For 12 years, I have been privileged to work with an impressive group of committed, principled colleagues on this court and throughout the judiciary.

“I have decided that the time has come for me to pursue other opportunities in the legal profession.”

Lee was appointed to the Utah Supreme Court by former Gov. Gary Herbert in 2010. He received a bachelor’s in economics from Brigham Young University and his law degree with high honors from the University of Chicago.

“Associate Chief Justice Lee is an extraordinary jurist and scholar,” said Chief Justice Matthew B. Durrant. “I don’t think a single opinion has been issued in a case in which he participated that was not improved by his scholarship. … His work has been brilliant and his commitment to the rule of law unparalleled.”

Before his appointment to the bench, Lee was a full-time law professor at Brigham Young University, according to his biography on Harvard Law School’s website. He was also a clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

In 2018 and 2020, both Thomas and Mike Lee were on former President Donald Trump’s short list of possible U.S. Supreme Court nominees. Instead, Trump appointed Brett Kavanaugh in 2018 and Amy Coney Barrett in 2020.

Lee is the second Utah Supreme Court justice to leave the bench in recent months. Deno Himonas retired in October, which means Cox has two vacancies to fill for Utah’s highest court.

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