Utah is one step closer to having its first-ever female majority in the state Supreme Court.
On Tuesday, the Utah Senate Judicial Confirmation Committee voted unanimously to advance Jill Pohlman, Gov. Spencer Cox’s appointment to the Utah Supreme Court, to consideration by the full Senate. She currently serves on the state’s appeals court.
“I am humbled by the trust the governor has shown in me in making this appointment. And I’m humbled by the important work that, if confirmed, I would be called upon to do,” Pohlman said at a July 19 committee meeting.
Pohlman was appointed to replace Justice Thomas Lee, the older brother of Sen. Mike Lee, who announced in January that he would be stepping down at the end of this month. If confirmed, she will join two other woman justices, Diana Hagen and Paige Petersen, as well as Chief Justice Matthew Durrant and Justice John Pearce.
The appointment comes as three high-profile cases are likely to reach the Utah Supreme Court in the coming months. They include a lawsuit that challenges a ban on transgender girls competing in high school sports, a restraining order on Utah’s abortion “trigger law” and a case in which plaintiffs are arguing that congressional boundaries redrawn by the Legislature were gerrymandered and need judicial review.
Although committee members didn’t ask Pohlman directly about any of the potentially historic cases expected to come before the court, some asked questions on her judicial approach to such cases.
Committee Chair Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, asked whether it’s appropriate for the court to recognize “enumerated rights” in the Utah Constitution. In response, Pohlman said that beyond looking at the objective meaning of the constitution and other legal documents, “There’s a lot of issues that are ... going to be facing the Supreme Court in the next little while, and so I don’t know that I can answer the question any more precisely.”
In the wake of Dobbs v. Jackson, Pohlman in multiple instances criticized what she described as the politicization of courts on the federal level. At last week’s committee meeting, Pohlman said she appreciates that, as opposed to U.S. Supreme Court justices, she typically doesn’t know where Utah Supreme Court justices will land on particular issues.
“As courts become more political, we see that a lot on the federal scale anyway, I worry that people will stop trusting the courts,” Pohlman said. “And when people stopped trusting the courts, I’m not sure where we go.”
Pohlman was appointed to the Utah Court of Appeals by Gov. Gary Herbert in 2016. She previously clerked for U.S. District Court Chief Judge David Winder and the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
While practicing as a private attorney, she represented the Deseret News in its dispute with The Salt Lake Tribune over a Joint Operating Agreement and participated in the independent investigation of the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics bribery scandal. Pohlman also sat on the steering committee for former President George W. Bush’s 2004 campaign in Utah.
Pohlman’s confirmation hearing in front of the full Senate is tentatively scheduled for Aug. 17.
“We need women’s voices,” Pohlman said at a June press conference announcing her appointment. “And I think this is just a confirmation that women should serve, and women should express their views.”