Colorado Supreme Court

Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel

Promoting Professionalism. Protecting the Public.

Justice Melissa Hart talks about first week on the bench, path to the court


Justice Melissa Hart was at her son's basketball practice in early December, when her phone began to ring. The call was directly from the governor, advising her she had been appointed to the Colorado Supreme Court.

She immediately ran into the gymnasium where her son was playing basketball and told him he'd be leaving school early to go meet the governor.

Photo courtesy of the Colorado Judicial Branch

Hart was officially appointed on December 14, 2017, and took the bench for her first official day as a member of the Colorado Supreme Court on January 9.

"It was great," Hart said, smiling. "It really exceeded expectations and my expectations were very high."

Hart's first week hearing cases featured a slew of complex issues, including potential rule changes to the Rules Governing Admission to the Bar and Mandatory Continuing Legal Education and Judicial Education.

While her first day on the bench may have been the most enchanting, it was the second day that was the most eye-opening.

Hart referenced a case in which a litigant from the underlying case came to the oral arguments.

"That was a strong reminder that when we are deciding a legal issue, that there are human elements, and sometimes suffering, behind those statutory interpretations,” Hart said. “I felt the gravity of the issues that we are dealing with and the seriousness of the obligation as the court of last resort here. It's really important to dive into the issues and not make quick judgments.”

It’s these considerations that led Hart to the bench, through what she believes is a calling to public service.

Prior to her work as a law professor at the University of Colorado Law School, and as the director of CU’s Byron R. White Center for the Study of American Constitutional Law, Hart practiced law for several years in Washington, D.C., including as a trial attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice. She also clerked for Justice John Paul Stevens of the United States Supreme Court, and for Judge Guido Calabresi of the Second Circuit.

For the past 17 years, Hart has been involved at CU in a position she said she “absolutely loved,” teaching Civil Procedure, Poverty Law, Legal Ethics and Professionalism, Employment Discrimination and Employment Law, Education and the Constitution, and Supreme Court Decision-making.

It is this constant circle of learning and teaching that truly drives newly-appointed Justice Melissa Hart. But one question lingered from her time spent as a law professor: how do we make the system the best that it can be?

“How do you make the legal system work really well? How do you increase public confidence in the judicial and legal systems?” she wondered. Now, given the opportunity to serve on the state’s highest court, Hart is not only able to participate in decisions directly affecting these questions, but is also part of a body which can influence outcomes on how the entire profession, and the court, is regulated in the future.

Looking at the bigger picture was something Hart said she believes propelled her from nominee to justice. In preparation for the position, Hart spent time engaging in the community, connecting with lawyers, business leaders, and community leaders in the Denver area.

“It gave me a richer perspective of the challenges which are affecting our communities," Hart said. "I listened to more voices and took in more perspectives.”

Now, as a justice for the Colorado Supreme Court, the circle of learning and teaching is more important than ever.

"Never stop learning," Hart said. "Being a lawyer – and a judge – is a lifelong learning process."