Thomas R. Lee
Lecturer on Law
Thomas R. Lee is a Justice on the Utah Supreme Court. He is a graduate (with High Honors) of the University of Chicago Law School and a former law clerk to Justice Clarence Thomas and to Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III. Before his appointment to the Utah Supreme Court (in 2010) Lee was a full-time law professor at Brigham Young University. He still serves there as Distinguished Lecturer and is also a lecturer at both Harvard Law School and at the Law School at the University of Chicago.
Lee has been an innovator at the intersection of law and linguistics. His judicial opinions and scholarship advocate the use of theories and tools used by linguists in interpreting the language of the law. Through theories and tools of “corpus linguistics,” Lee has sought to bring rigor and precision to the law’s search for the “ordinary meaning” of the words of statutes and regulations. See Judging Ordinary Meaning, 127 YALE L. J. 788 (2018) (co-authored with Stephen Mouritsen).
Lee has also written in defense of originalism. His recent work also proposes to use the theories and tools of corpus linguistics to bring more rigor to originalist practice. Lee’s article, Data-Driven Originalism, 167 PENN. L. REV. 261 (2019) (co-authored with James Phillips), identifies shortcomings in standard approaches to originalism and shows how corpus linguistic analysis can address some of those shortcomings.
Lee has presented on law and linguistics at numerous conferences, symposia, and workshops. His judicial and academic work on law and language has been cited in a wide range of federal and state courts. See State v. Rasabout, 356 P.3d 1258 (Utah 2015) (Lee, J., proposing the use of corpus linguistics in assessing the ordinary meaning of the terms of statutes); People v. Harris, 885 N.W.2d 832, 838–39 (Mich. 2016) (citing and adopting Lee’s proposed methodology); Wilson v. Safelite Group, Inc., 930 F.3d 429, 439 (6th Cir. 2019) (Thapar, J., concurring in part and concurring in the judgement, also proposing to use tools advocated by Lee and citing his work); Ceasars Entertainment Corp. v. Int’l Union of Operating Engineers Local 68 Pension Fund, 932 F.3d 91, 95-96 (3rd Cir. 2019) (same).
Lee’s contributions to this field will be synthesized in a forthcoming monograph, LAW & CORPUS LINGUISTICS (Oxford Univ. Press 2020) (forthcoming; co-authored with Stephen Mouritsen).
During his years as a full-time law professor, Lee maintained a part-time intellectual property litigation practice with Howard, Phillips, & Andersen. He also developed a part-time appellate practice, arguing numerous cases in federal courts throughout the country and in the United States Supreme Court. In 2004 - 05, Justice Lee served as Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Civil Division of the U.S. Department of Justice.