For the first time in state history, most of the Utah Supreme Court’s five justices may be women.
On Tuesday, Gov. Spencer Cox nominated Utah Court of Appeals Judge Jill M. Pohlman to the Utah Supreme Court. Pohlman, who would replace Justice Thomas Lee, is the second nominee the governor has appointed since taking office in 2021.
If confirmed by the Utah Senate, Pohlman would become the third woman on the state’s high court, marking the court’s first female majority.
Cox said he did not select Pohlman because of her gender, rather noting that more women are pursuing legal careers in the once primarily male-dominated field. The governor said this expansion of applicants for judicial roles puts Utah in a place “to choose the very best.”
For Pohlman, the nomination is an example to her two daughters that “gender is not a barrier.” She believes having women on the court is vital.
“We need women’s voices,” she said. “And I think this is just a confirmation that women should serve, and women should express their views.”
Out of the seven candidates up for the position, Cox said Pohlman’s “logic is impeccable” and that her judicial philosophy aligns closely with his own.
“She is a person that believes in the rule of law.” Cox said. “She is not someone who chooses an outcome and then tries to find a way to make it fit within the legal parameters.”
‘Applying the law equally to everyone’
When asked about her judicial philosophy, Pohlman said she characterizes it as “one of restraint.”
“I follow the law, follow the guidelines that have already been set forth,” she said. “And I do that to ensure that people are treated fairly and that we are applying the law equally to everyone.”
She did not comment on how she may rule in major cases expected to reach the state high court, including the recent Planned Parenthood lawsuit over the Utah’s trigger law, which aimed to ban abortion except in a few limited circumstances.
Pohlman graduated from the University of Utah law school and clerked for both Chief Judge David K. Winder of the U.S. District Court as well as the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
During her time as a private practice lawyer, Pohlman litigated serval prominent cases, including the Joint Operating Agreement between The Salt Lake Tribune and the Deseret News. She also played a role in the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics bribery investigation.
Pohlman was appointed to the Court of Appeals by former Governor Gary Herbert in 2016, where she acts as the associate presiding judge.
‘She’s the judge I would want to appear before’
At a time when confidence in the U.S. Supreme Court is at a historic low, Utah Supreme Court Chief Justice Matthew B. Durrant said he hopes Pohlman will restore Utahns’ trust in the judicial system.
He gave a ringing endorsement of Cox’s nomination, calling Pohlman an “intellectual powerhouse.” Prior to the appointment, Durrant says Pohlman has subbed on the high court a number of times.
“She’s the judge I would want to appear before if my life were on the line,” Durrant said.
If she is confirmed by the Senate, Pohlman said she would not overstep her authority nor act as a lawmaker.
“I am there to interpret the law and to provide rulings,” she said, “but I make sure that I never reach out into and decide cases based on what I want the law to be or what I think the law should be.”
From here, the Senate Judicial Confirmation Committee will have the chance to interview Pohlman.
Utahns also have the chance to provide written comments on the appointment of Pohlman until July 13 at 5:00 pm. According to the Utah Senate Judicial Confirmation Committee, all comments should be addressed to: Jonathan Adams at the Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel, the Utah State Capitol, House Building, Suite W210, PO Box 145210, Salt Lake City, Utah 84114-5210.
The Utah Senate Judicial Confirmation Committee says all statements should include the commenter’s name, telephone number and mailing address.
“It is an immense responsibility to properly vet judicial appointments with the utmost diligence,” said Sen. Todd Weiler, chair of the Judicial Confirmation Committee in a statement Tuesday. “I look forward to reviewing Judge Pohlman’s experiences, particularly as an appellate judge, to understand more about her judicial philosophy.”
If approved by the judicial committee, Pohlman will face a Senate confirmation hearing that will most likely take place in July, Cox said.
Pohlman could be confirmed to the high court as soon as mid-August.