Utah Supreme Court
|Utah Supreme Court|
|Method:||Comm. select., Gov. appt.|
The Utah Supreme Court is the court of last resort in Utah. It was established in 1894 when Utah became a state, partly growing out of an earlier territorial supreme court that was established by an act of the U.S. Congress in 1850. The court is composed of five members -- a chief justice, an associate chief justice and three justices -- who serve renewable ten-year terms.
JusticesThe current justices of the court are:
|Justice Christine Durham||1982-1/5/2025||Gov. Scott Matheson|
|Chief justice Matthew Durrant||2000-1/5/2025||Mike Leavitt|
|Justice Jill Parrish||2003-2016||Mike Leavitt|
|Associate justice Deno Himonas||2015-2018||Gov. Gary Herbert|
|Associate chief justice Thomas Rex Lee||2010-1/5/2025||Gov. Gary R. Herbert|
The justices themselves vote for the chief justice and associate chief justice positions. The term of a chief justice is four years and the term of an associate chief justice is two years. Since Utah achieved statehood, there have been 39 chief justices of the court. The first was Charles S. Zane, who served in this position on the court from 1896 to 1899, having previously been a chief justice of the preceding territorial supreme court.
The Utah Supreme Court has original jurisdiction over matters of state law that were certified from federal courts, and can also issue extraordinary writs. The court has appellate jurisdiction for cases of first degree and capital felony convictions from the district court. Appellate jurisdiction also extends to civil judgements besides domestic cases. The court reviews the administrative proceedings of the Public Service Commission, the Tax Commission, the School and Institutional Trust Lands Board of Trustees, the Board of Oil, Gas, and Mining, and the State Engineer. Additionally, the supreme court also has jurisdiction over the rulings of the Utah Court of Appeals by writ of certiorari and both constitutional and election questions. The court makes final rulings of interpretation of the Utah Constitution, as well as adopting rules for civil and criminal procedure and rules of evidence for use in the state courts. The court has administrative power over the Judicial Conduct Commission and the practice of law in the state, including admission, conduct, and discipline of attorneys.
Justices of the court are chosen using a gubernatorial commission process. The Utah appellate judicial nominating commission has eight members. Seven of the members are appointed by the governor. The eighth member of the commission is the state's chief justice or someone chosen by the chief justice. This member of the commission is a non-voting member. The appellate court nominating commission screens applicants for any vacancies that occur on the court. It is then required to submit a list of names with between five and seven nominees to the governor. The governor is required to appoint a nominee from the list to fill the vacancy within thirty days. If the governor fails to do so, the court's chief justice makes an appointment from the list. The Utah senate must then confirm or reject the appointment within sixty days.Cite error: Closing
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To be considered a qualified candidate, a person must be a citizen of the United States and have been a resident of the state of Utah for no less than five years. Additionally, the candidate must be at least 30 years of age, and must be admitted to practice law in the state.
In October 2012, political science professors Adam Bonica and Michael Woodruff of Stanford University attempted to determine the partisan outlook of state supreme court justices in their paper, State Supreme Court Ideology and 'New Style' Judicial Campaigns. A score above 0 indicated a more conservative leaning ideology while scores below 0 were more liberal. The state Supreme Court of Utah was given a campaign finance score (CFscore) which was calculated for judges in October 2012. At that time, Utah received a score of 0.45. Based on the justices selected, Utah was the 10th most conservative court. The study is based on data from campaign contributions by judges themselves, the partisan leaning of contributors to the judges or, in the absence of elections, the ideology of the appointing body (governor or legislature). This study is not a definitive label of a justice but rather, an academic gauge of various factors.
Removal of justices
In December 2013, the Center for Public Integrity released a study on disclosure requirements for state supreme court judges. Analysts from the Center reviewed the rules governing financial disclosure in each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia, as well as personal financial disclosures for the past three years. The study found that 42 states and Washington D.C. received failing grades. Utah earned a grade of F in the study. No state received a grade higher than "C". Furthermore, due in part to these lax disclosure standards, the study found 35 instances of questionable gifts, investments overlapping with caseloads and similar potential ethical quandaries. The study also noted 14 cases in which justices participated although they or their spouses held stock in the company involved in the litigation.
History of the court
Before statehood, Utah was a territory known as the State of Deseret. Article IV of the Constitution of Deseret provided for a three member Supreme Court, with each member being elected to a term of four years by the General Assembly of the State of Deseret. In 1850, Utah was admitted to the Union and the state's constitution provided for a supreme court with original jurisdiction over writs of mandamus, certiorari, prohibition, quo warranto, and habeas corpus. In all other cases, the court had appellate jurisdiction; it was not a trial court. The court continued to consist of three justices, but they were elected to serve staggered terms of six years each. According to the constitution, after 1905, the court could be expanded to include four justices. The clerk of the supreme court also served as the librarian of the state law library. The court was to hold a minimum of three sessions each year, and the clerk had the power to adjourn the court if all the justices were absent.
- Appointed in 1982, Christine M. Durham was the first female justice to be appointed to the Utah Supreme Court. She was also the longest serving chief justice and served in that position for exactly ten years. She stepped down as chief justice in 2012 but continues to serve as a justice on the court.
- News: Matthew Durrant becomes head of Utah's judiciary, March 27, 2012
- Utah Courts, "Supreme Court Justices"
- Official website of the Utah Supreme Court
- History of the Utah Supreme Court
- Utah Courts, "Opinions of the court"
- Utah Courts, "Caseload"
- Utah State Courts, "An Overview of the Utah Supreme Court," accessed January 27, 2015
- American Judicature Society, "Methods of Judicial Selection: Utah; Judicial Nominating Commissions," archived January 13, 2012
- Stanford University, "State Supreme Court Ideology and 'New Style' Judicial Campaigns," October 31, 2012
- Utah Courts, "Annual Reports," accessed January 27, 2015
- Center for Public Integrity, "State supreme court judges reveal scant financial information," December 5, 2013
- Utah Department of Administrative Services, Archives, "Agency Histories, Supreme Court, Agency History #868," accessed August 23, 2013
- The Salt Lake Tribune, "Durham to step down as chief justice of Utah Supreme Court," January 23, 2012, accessed August 22, 2012
|Former||Michael Wilkins • Ronald Nehring •|