Idaho Supreme Court Justice Gregory Moeller enlightened students on the judicial process and answered questions on June 13 in the Gordon B. Hinckley building. 

Moeller expressed his profound love for Rexburg and his time at BYU-Idaho teaching Media Law and Ethics. Not only did he work as an adjunct professor on campus, but he also served as a YSA Bishop before serving as a judge for Idaho’s 7th district.

Pulling back the curtain 

He opened his remarks by giving a behind-the-scenes look at the Idaho Supreme Court and how it determines cases. Law clerks randomly draw three cases for each justice to be the assumed author of. Over the next two months, clerks prepare a pre-hearing memo, a presentation of documents relating to each case such as trial transcripts, that will range between 500 and 1000 pages. 

The memo is read, examined and analyzed before the Supreme Court hears oral arguments from the two sides. Once oral arguments conclude, the assumed author for each case begins drafting a majority opinion — a highly collaborative process.

“We edit each other’s decisions,” Moeller said. “You have to shed yourself of all pride because you have to reveal your writing to four really smart colleagues and let them point out all the flaws and errors. They expect me to bleed on their work just like they bleed on my work.”

A gospel lens

Moeller and Chief Justice George Richard Bevan are the only two members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints elected to the Supreme court in the last 30 years.

Moeller utilized the opportunity of speaking at BYU-I to touch on how his faith shaped his view of his work. 

“There are a lot of our legal bases in this country, both our Constitution and even our common law, that are drawn from the scriptures,” Moeller said. 

He shared examples from a recent case he authored — Eagle Rock Timber Inc. v. Teton County — where he relied on principles of agency and authority, which are common themes in the doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 

Moeller said that many aspects of the judicial process are built on oaths and covenants, including the promise to say “the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth”. 

“If you think about it, to tell the truth means what you say is going to be true,” Moeller said. “The ‘whole truth’ means that you’re going to tell the entire truth, not just part of the truth. ‘Nothing but the truth’ means you’re not going to mix in some untruth with your truth. Those are three separate goals. You have to make those three covenants.”

A new religion

As the emphasis on religion decreases in the United States, Moeller wonders if a new “religion” is growing in its place. 

“It seems like as there’s been less emphasis on religion in our society, there’s more interest in partisanship,” Moeller said. “I almost wonder if partisanship is replacing religion because people now treat their political beliefs the same way they used to treat their religious beliefs. They don’t want to let facts get in the way of their political beliefs.”

Moeller said the Supreme Court dedicates itself to a neutral analysis of the facts. However, he’s been criticized several times by legislators on both sides of the aisle. One day, he’ll be called a “liberal loony” and on others, he’ll be called a “constitutional dumb***.”

“When you’re dealing with people that look at everything through a political lens, they assume you do too,” Moeller said.

Students focus on Justice Moeller's presentation. Photo credit: Chester Chan.
Students focus on Justice Moeller’s presentation. Photo credit: Chester Chan.

Answering questions

Moeller concluded his presentation by conducting a question-and-answer session. Responses have been edited for clarity and brevity. 

Scroll: “Do you think there needs to be more transparency and accountability with the Supreme Court or does that threaten the separation of powers?”

Moeller: “Yes, it depends on who they are accountable to. That’s what’s difficult with the U.S. Supreme Court because they are technically almost accountable to no one. They are appointed for life. I am not appointed. I was appointed for one year and then I had to run an election. Then I was elected to a six-year term. In 2026, I’ll be back on the ballot. If people don’t like the choices I make, I’m accountable to the voters. I’m also accountable for my ethical decisions, as are all judges in Idaho, to the Idaho Judicial Council.”

Scroll: “What is the biggest misconception people have about the role of the supreme court?”

Moeller: “The biggest misconception is that we are result-oriented — that we look at a case and we vote for which side we like. Actually, it doesn’t work that way at all. We are driven by the rule of law. The most painful decisions I’ve had to make in my life are against people that I like because that’s what the law was. The other misconception, I think, is that we have a political angle to our decisions, which we just don’t.”

Scroll: “How can we get involved in politics as members of the Church and legislate our morals?”

Moeller: “It is really important to engage in the political process, and having strong (members of the Church) as part of our legislature is so important. I’m not sure the First Presidency is encouraging us to legislate morals. I think there’s a difference between morals and values.”

Scroll: “Did you always want to be a judge?”

Moeller: “I wanted to be a lawyer when I became a lawyer. After about 10 years, people started to ask me to judge. And my answer was a stock answer. I always told them, ‘Why would I want to be a referee when I can be a player?’ I only became a judge because when there was an opening, going through a period of transition in my life.”