Thomas Rex Lee

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Thomas Rex Lee
Justice of the Utah Supreme Court
In office
July 19, 2010 – June 30, 2022
Appointed byGary Herbert
Preceded byMichael J. Wilkins
Succeeded byJill Pohlman
Personal details
BornDecember 1964 (age 59)
Political partyRepublican
SpouseKimberly Lee
RelationsMike Lee (brother)
ParentRex E. Lee
EducationBrigham Young University (BA)
University of Chicago (JD)

Thomas Rex Lee (born December 1964) is a former American jurist who was a justice of the Utah Supreme Court from 2010 to 2022. Lee is also a lecturer on law at Harvard Law School[1] and an adjunct professor/distinguished lecturer at Brigham Young University's (BYU) J. Reuben Clark Law School (JRCL) following his appointment to the bench.[2]

Lee is a pioneer in law and corpus linguistics—the application of corpus linguistics to determine ordinary meaning in statutes—being the first American judge to do so in an opinion.[3][4]

Early life and education[edit]

Thomas Rex Lee was born in 1964 to Janet (née Griffin) and Rex E. Lee. He grew up in Arizona, Utah, and Northern Virginia. Lee attended BYU, graduating in 1988 with a Bachelor of Arts summa cum laude in economics.[5] He then attended the University of Chicago Law School, where he was an editor of the University of Chicago Law Review and graduated in 1991 with a Juris Doctor degree with high honors.[6]

After law school, Lee clerked for J. Harvie Wilkinson III of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit from 1991 to 1992. He then entered private practice at the Salt Lake City-based law firm of Kimball, Parr, Waddoups, Brown & Gee, taking a one-year leave of absence to serve as a law clerk for Justice Clarence Thomas of the U.S. Supreme Court from 1994 to 1995.


After his Supreme Court clerkship, Lee entered private practice at the Salt Lake City law firm Kimball, Parr, Waddoups, Brown & Gee. He left the firm in 1997 to join the faculty at BYU's JRCL. At the law school, Lee taught courses in Civil Procedure and Intellectual Property Law, and a seminar on the United States Supreme Court. He also served as Associate Dean (2008-2010) and was named the Rex and Maureen Rawlinson Professor of Law.[7] Following his 2010 appointment to the bench Lee remained a Distinguished Lecturer in Law at the JRCL.[2]

During his years as a full-time law professor, Lee was also of counsel at Howard, Phillips, & Andersen, handling intellectual property litigation. He was counsel in multiple trademark infringement cases brought by or against automobile manufacturers such as General Motors and Ford Motor Company. He also developed a part-time appellant practice, arguing numerous cases in federal courts throughout the country and in the United States Supreme Court.[8][9]

Lee took leave of the JRCL from 2004 to 2005 to serve as Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Civil Division of the United States Justice Department.[8][10] While at the JRCL, from 2002 to 2004, Lee also served as the lead counsel in cases brought by the state of Utah in relation to plans to put nuclear waste on the Goshute Indian Reservation.

Utah Supreme Court[edit]

On May 28, 2010, Utah Governor Gary Herbert nominated Lee to fill the vacancy in the Utah Supreme Court left by the retirement of Michael J. Wilkins.[11] Receiving a unanimous vote (5–0) from the Utah Senate Judicial Confirmation Committee in mid-June 2010,[12] Lee was confirmed by the full Senate on June 23, 2010.[13] Lee was sworn into office on July 19, 2010; his mentor, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, administered the oath.[14] On January 19, 2022, Lee sent a letter to Governor Spencer Cox, informing him that he would be resigning, effective July 31, 2022. His stated reason was "to pursue other opportunities in the legal profession.".[15] However, Lee ended up retiring from the court on June 30, 2022.[16]

Authorship of opinions[edit]

Lee has been a prolific judicial writer. An empirical study of Utah Supreme Court opinions by political scientist, Adam Brown, found that in the approximately first three years on the court, Lee authored more opinions than any other justice over the 16-year period studied, writing some form of opinion (whether majority, dissenting, or concurring) in 43% of the opinions published while he was a justice.[17]

"Whereas some justices release a concurring or dissenting opinion in only a handful of cases that they hear," Lee is a prolific writer of such opinions, releasing them in around 16% of the Court's opinions.[17][18] Of the ten Utah Supreme justices who served on the court from 1997 to 2012, Lee has the second-highest rate of dissent, filing dissenting opinions in 10% of cases over this time period. (The justice with the highest dissent rate was I. Daniel Stewart, who dissented 11% of the time).[17] Lee also authored the highest proportion of majority opinions of the court (27%); Brown wrote that "[g]iven that Lee dissents relatively frequently, it is remarkable that he is also the most common author of majority opinions. His willingness to dissent has apparently not alienated his colleagues."[17]

Post-court career[edit]

Thomas R. Lee in 2022.

After stepping down from the Utah Supreme Court, Lee launched two national firms: Lee Nielsen, a boutique litigation firm with offices in Utah and D.C.; and Corpus Juris Advisors, a consulting firm performing linguistic and survey analysis for issues of legal interpretation (contracts, statutes, and constitutions), intellectual property (trademarks and patent claim construction), defamation, and false advertising.[16][19]


A 2016 paper written by Jeremy Kidd of the Mercer University Walter F. George School of Law and others attempted to measure the "Scalia-ness" of various potential nominees to the Supreme Court to fill the seat left vacant by Antonin Scalia's death.[20] The study created a "Scalia Index Score" combining the various measures of "Scalia-ness," and Lee scored highest. The study found that Lee was the most likely to endorse or engage in originalism in judicial opinions, was second most likely to cite Scalia's non-judicial writings in opinions, and the third most likely to write separately when not writing the majority opinion.[21] The study was updated again in 2018, adding new variables and more names, and Lee again scored the highest.[22]

In a 2016 article, John McGinnis, of the Northwestern University School of Law, argued that Lee was similar to Scalia in being "capable of pressing the intellectual case for following the Constitution as written" because of Lee "has pioneered the application of corpus linguistics to law," and further wrote that if elevated to the U.S. Supreme Court, "Lee would create a transmission belt from the best work of originalists in the academy to the Supreme Court."[23]

Hannah Clayson Smith, writing in the National Review, praised Lee as a possible successor to Scalia because of Lee's similar jurisprudential style to the late Justice, but noted that with respect to Lee's views on judicial precedent, "Justice Lee is more like Justice Thomas than like Justice Scalia." Smith noted that Lee (like Thomas) has repeatedly advocated for overruling precedent that he views as "contrary to the original meaning of the Utah constitution," even if precedent takes a different approach.[24]


Title Publication
Data-Driven Originalism[25] University of Pennsylvania Law Review, Vol. 167, pp. 261-335, 2019
Judging Ordinary Meaning[26] Yale Law Journal, Vol. 127, pp. 788-1105, 2018
Corpus Linguistics & Original Public Meaning: A New Tool To Make Originalism More Empirical[27] Yale Law Journal Forum, Vol. 126, pp. 21–32, 2016
Trademarks, Consumer Psychology, and the Sophisticated Consumer[28] Emory Law Journal, Vol. 57, pp. 575-650, 2008
Demystifying Dilution[29] Boston University Law Review, Vol. 84, pp. 859–944, 2004
The Original Understanding of the Census Clause: Statistical Estimates and the Constitutional Requirement of an 'Actual Enumeration'[30] Washington Law Review, Vol. 77, pp. 1–64, 2002
Preliminary Injunctions and the Status Quo[31] Washington & Lee Law Review, Vol. 58, pp. 109–166, 2001
The Anastasoff Case and the Judicial Power to "Unpublish" Opinions[32] Notre Dame Law Review, Vol. 77, pp. 135–173, 2001
In Rem Jurisdiction in Cyberspace 75 Wash. L. Rev 97 (2000)
Stare Decisis in Historical Perspective: From the Founding Era to the Rehnquist Court[33] Vanderbilt Law Review, Vol. 52, pp. 647–735, 1999
Pleading and Proof: The Economics of Legal Burdens[34] Brigham Young University Law Review, Vol. 1997, pp. 1–34, 1997
Comment: The Standing of Qui Tam Relators Under the False Claims Act[35] University of Chicago Law Review, Vol. 57, pp. 543–571, 1990

Personal life[edit]

Lee and his wife, Kimberly, have six children. His brother, Mike Lee, is a U.S. Senator representing the state of Utah.[36] He is the son of Rex E. Lee, a former Solicitor General of the United States and the 10th president of BYU.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ School, Harvard Law. "Thomas R. Lee - Harvard Law School". Archived from the original on April 3, 2019. Retrieved October 5, 2018.
  2. ^ a b "Thomas R. Lee – BYU J. Reuben Clark Law School".
  3. ^ Volokh, Eugene (August 17, 2015). "Judges and 'corpus linguistics'". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved October 8, 2015.
  4. ^ "Corpus Linguistics as Interpretive Tool". National Review Online. August 19, 2015. Retrieved October 8, 2015.
  5. ^ "Thomas Rex Lee". Archived from the original on February 10, 2010. Retrieved November 12, 2010.
  6. ^ "Accolades & Achievements | University of Chicago Law School". Retrieved March 7, 2014.
  7. ^ "Thomas R. Lee New Associate Dean for Faculty and Curriculum at the BYU Law School". Archived from the original on October 10, 2008. Retrieved June 16, 2010.
  8. ^ a b "Judges' Biographies - Utah Courts".
  9. ^ "Oyez, Thomas R. Lee, Cases Argued". Oyez. Retrieved November 9, 2016.
  10. ^ "Thomas R" (PDF). Retrieved March 7, 2014.
  11. ^ Dennis Romboy (May 29, 2010). "BYU law professor Thomas Lee nominated to Utah Supreme Court". Deseret News. Retrieved March 7, 2014.
  12. ^ Aaron Falk (June 15, 2010). "BYU law professor Thomas Lee moves closer to spot on Utah's high court". Deseret News. Retrieved March 7, 2014.
  13. ^ "Lee Receives Unanimous Vote From Senate Committee". Archived from the original on June 24, 2010. Retrieved November 12, 2010.
  14. ^ "Utah Local News – Salt Lake City News, Sports, Archive – The Salt Lake Tribune". January 29, 2014. Retrieved March 7, 2014.
  15. ^ "Thomas R. Lee announces retirement from Utah Supreme Court".
  16. ^ a b Merken, Sara (June 13, 2022). "Retiring Utah top court justice to open law, consulting firms". Reuters. Retrieved July 18, 2022.
  17. ^ a b c d "Utah's Supreme Court, where unanimity is the rule". Utah Data Points. June 10, 2013. Retrieved November 15, 2016.
  18. ^ Kidd et al., supra note 16.
  19. ^ Ashcraft, Emily (July 3, 2022). "Thomas Lee retires from Utah's Supreme Court, but still has big plans". Retrieved July 18, 2022.
  20. ^ Phillips, James; Walters, Ryan D.; Dasgupta, Riddhi Sohan; Kidd, Jeremy (2016). "Searching for Justice Scalia: Measuring the "Scalia-Ness" of the Next Potential Member of the U.S. Supreme Court". Social Science Research Network. SSRN 2874794.
  21. ^ "Kidd, Sohan, Walters, & Phillips on Measuring Potential Trump Nominees to the Supreme Court for Similarities to Justice Scalia". Legal Theory Blog. Retrieved November 26, 2016.
  22. ^ Kidd, Jeremy; Walters, Ryan D. (January 12, 2018). "Searching for Scalia in 2018: Measuring the 'Scalia-ness' of President Trump's Supreme Court Shortlist". SSRN. doi:10.2139/ssrn.3100298. SSRN 3100298.
  23. ^ "Scalia's Successor Needs His Virtues". Online Library of Law & Liberty. November 27, 2016. Retrieved December 5, 2016.
  24. ^ "Replacing Justice Scalia: A Proven Originalist from Trump's List". National Review. Retrieved December 7, 2016.
  25. ^ Lee, Thomas R.; Phillips, James C. "Data-Driven Originalism". University of Pennsylvania Law Review. 167: 261–335.
  26. ^ "Judging Ordinary Meaning". Yale Law Journal. 127: 788–879.
  27. ^ "Corpus Linguistics & Original Public Meaning: A New Tool To Make Originalism More Empirical". Retrieved November 15, 2016.
  28. ^ "Trademarks, Consumer Psychology, and the Sophisticated Consumer by Thomas R. Lee, Glenn Christensen, Eric DeRosia :: SSRN". doi:10.2139/ssrn.967742. S2CID 67854961. SSRN 1263575. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  29. ^ Lee, Thomas R. (December 24, 2008). "Demystifying Dilution by Thomas R. Lee :: SSRN". SSRN 1319457. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  30. ^ Lee, Thomas R. (September 4, 2008). "The Original Understanding of the Census Clause: Statistical Estimates and the Constitutional Requirement of an 'Actual Enumeration' by Thomas R. Lee :: SSRN". SSRN 1263580. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  31. ^ Lee, Thomas R. (September 4, 2008). "Preliminary Injunctions and the Status Quo by Thomas R. Lee :: SSRN". SSRN 1263609. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  32. ^ Lehnhof, Lance S.; Lee, Thomas R. (September 4, 2008). "The Anastasoff Case and the Judicial Power to "Unpublish" Opinions by Thomas R. Lee, Lance S. Lehnhof :: SSRN". SSRN 1263603. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  33. ^ Lee, Thomas R. (September 4, 2008). "Stare Decisis in Historical Perspective: From the Founding Era to the Rehnquist Court by Thomas R. Lee :: SSRN". SSRN 1263610. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  34. ^ Lee, Thomas R. (September 10, 2008). "Pleading and Proof: The Economics of Legal Burdens by Thomas R. Lee :: SSRN". SSRN 1266327. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  35. ^ Lee, Thomas R. (September 10, 2008). "Comment: The Standing of Qui Tam Relators Under the False Claims Act by Thomas R. Lee :: SSRN". SSRN 1266328. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  36. ^ "Brothers In Law". Retrieved October 8, 2015.

External links[edit]

Legal offices
Preceded by Associate Justice of the Utah Supreme Court
Succeeded by