Utah Gov. Spencer Cox nominated Diana Hagen to fill a vacancy on the Utah Supreme Court. She has served as a judge for the Utah Court of Appeals for the last five years.
"I can say without hesitation, that she's eminently qualified to serve in this capacity," Cox said Tuesday, adding that he has high expectations for Hagen.
"I know she's going to be amazing. I'm sure she'll do the right things for the right reasons and in the right way," Cox said.
Hagen served on the Court of Appeals since 2017. During that time, she took on more responsibilities, including serving as chairwoman of the Supreme Court Office of Professional Conduct Oversight Committee, chairwoman of the Judicial Education Committee and appellate court representative on the Utah Sentencing Commission.
Prior to that position, Hagen was an assistant U.S. attorney for the District of Utah, where she served as chief of the appellate section and first assistant. As a federal prosecutor, she handled hundreds of appeals including the Elizabeth Smart kidnapping case and the case involving the murder of Millard County Sheriff’s deputy Josie Greathouse Fox.
Hagen has also taught as an adjunct professor at the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law and worked as a clerk for United States District Court Judge Tena Campbell. She served as president of Women Lawyers of Utah, president of the Utah chapter of the Federal Bar Association and on the executive board of the Salt Lake County Bar Association.
Hagen was also a member of the Utah Dating Violence Task Force, and has received many awards for various achievements.
"Judge Hagen's record of excellence has prepared her for this moment, and I couldn't be happier to nominate her to this very prestigious post," Cox said.
Matthew B. Durrant, current Chief Justice of the Utah Supreme Court, said he supports the appointment. He said Hagen has served as a substitute on the bench multiple times and is an "exceptional" judicial leader. According to Durrant, Hagen is always first to volunteer for difficult tasks and positions.
"As a jurist, she's off the charts, brilliant. She has an incisive, careful mind and she is deeply committed to deciding cases a fair way, free of any bias," Durrant said.
He said that he doesn't know if anyone has been nominated for the Utah Supreme Court who has been as qualified as Hagen, noting that she is more qualified than he was when he was appointed to the court.
"I speak for all my colleagues when I say that we are just delighted to have her nominated," Durrant said. "When it comes to being a jurist, I think it's fair to say that she has it all."
Hagen said she is honored to be Cox's first appointment to the Utah Supreme Court, if she is confirmed by the Utah Senate.
"If I'm confirmed, I hope I will make you proud," she told Cox.
When asked about her judicial philosophy, Hagen said she would summarize it as "judicial restraint." She approaches a case considering her limited role as a judge and is careful to only decide issues that are fully briefed and argued, that have been fleshed out.
"I understand my limited role, which is to apply the law as it has been enacted to these specific facts of this particular case. Without exerting any sort of will or desire for a particular outcome," Hagen said.
She said that, if she is confirmed, Utahns can expect her to work hard, treat people respectfully, uphold the rule of law in a nonpolitical way and understand the importance of cases to those involved in them and the state as a whole.
"I am so excited by the prospect of being able to work with the chief and the other justices on the Supreme Court. And, if I am confirmed, I promise to live up to the high standards that they have set and to do my very best to serve the people of Utah to the best of my ability," Hagen said.
Cox said that in selecting a candidate he considered whether their judicial philosophy matches his own philosophy. He said the law can sometimes be vague, needing interpretation, so finding someone whose intellect matches that philosophy is important. He also noted that the Supreme Court is a team, and he was considering how certain candidates would add to the team and work well with their colleagues.
Hagen's parents were present Tuesday, along with her husband, Tobin, and her son, Archer. She said her daughter Kaira was listening remotely. She thanked her husband, who stepped away from his career to be a stay-at-home dad so that she could pursue her own.
"That choice has made all the difference for our family. It has allowed me to have this rewarding and meaningful career and still have the wonderful family life. And Tobin, I know I wouldn't be here today without you," she said.
She said her son called her "Your Honor" for a week after she joined the Utah Court of Appeals, and she is hoping to be called "Justice" for a week in the near future.
"Like everything else in life, this moment is better because I get to share it with the two of you," Hagen said to her children.
Cox said he interviewed seven "incredible" candidates while making the decision of who to nominate. He said that it was a difficult decision, because of the seven judges recommended to him, each was highly qualified, but he is confident in his decision.
The Utah Senate is now responsible to decide whether Hagen will be confirmed, which will happen quickly, according to Cox. She will meet with the Senate Judiciary Committee, which will interview her, and then the Senate will meet to determine if they give full approval.
Cox said that he hopes that Hagen will be confirmed without issue, but he respects the role of the Senate in confirming judges.
Hagen will be replacing Justice Deno Himonas, who served on the Utah Supreme Court since 2015. Prior to that, he served as a judge in the 3rd District Court.
Gov. Cox said he was grateful for Himonas’ service to the state and to Utah's citizens.
Cox is expected to appoint another judge to the Utah Supreme Court later this year, to replace Thomas R. Lee, who is currently the associate chief justice of the court. He announced his retirement in January and has served since 2010.