Melissa Hart
Melissa Hart (Courtesy Photo)

Gov. John Hickenlooper on Thursday announced that he has chosen University of Colorado law professor Melissa Hart to fill a vacant seat on the Colorado Supreme Court, solidifying his impact on the panel by choosing arguably the most left-leaning of the three women nominated for his consideration.

Hart, who is a registered Democrat, replaces Allison Eid, a conservative jurist who left the state's most powerful court when she was tapped by President Donald Trump to serve on the Denver-based 10th U.


Advertisement

S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Hickenlooper said Hart is "without question a brilliant legal mind" and called her appointment "a great opportunity for Colorado."

"We are very, very grateful that Melissa is willing to take this on," he said in announcing Hart's appointment at the state Capitol.

The choice is Hickenlooper's fourth on the seven-member panel, whose members serve a two-year term before going before voters for retention and an additional 10 years on the bench.

Hart was considered by Hickenlooper in 2015 for an earlier vacancy on the Colorado Supreme Court, but he passed on her in favor of Justice Richard L. Gabriel.

Hart received her undergraduate and law degrees from Harvard, and her work at CU focuses on constitutional law, employment discrimination, legal ethics and legal professionalism. She also leads the Byron R. White Center for the Study of American Constitutional Law at CU.

"I am deeply honored to have this opportunity to serve the people of Colorado," Hart said, surrounded by her family and the other Colorado Supreme Court justices. She added: "I am really excited to join the six justices currently on the court in working to make sure that our court system is efficient and fair — that the work it does is clear and transparent, and that it works for people all over Colorado."

Hart clerked for Justice John Paul Stevens on the U.S. Supreme Court and practiced law for several years in Washington, D.C., including as a trial attorney at the Department of Justice, before becoming an educator.

She has taken on several pro bono cases in recent years and penned an amicus brief defending the Colorado Civil Rights Commission's ruling against a Lakewood baker who refused to make a cake for a same-sex couple because it was against his religious beliefs.

Hart has also represented clients seeking Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, status.

“Through my work in legal ethics, I have increasingly focused my work on addressing the significant lack of legal services for poor and moderate-income people,” she wrote in her application for the seat. “The reality of our legal market today is that more than 70 percent of individuals could not afford to hire an attorney to address important legal needs. This affordability of lawyers for most people is a crisis.”

Hart spoke to the media at length about Neil Gorsuch after Trump nominated him to the U.S. Supreme Court, calling him a “great pick" in a CNN interview.

A judicial nominating commission also put forth Marcy Glenn, a partner at the Denver office of the law firm Holland & Hart, and Pattie P. Swift, an Alamosa judge experienced in water law, as choices for Hickenlooper. Hart's term begins immediately.