A Tale of Two Supreme Court Justices (and what a fast-approaching Oaks presidency looks like for LDS girls)

On two separate occasions, I have spent the evening with a Utah Supreme Court Justice. One of those evenings was a lot more involved than the other, but I am going to count both because they’ve each had an impact on my life and my thoughts about LDS working women and careers.

The first one was with Dallin H. Oaks. 

This was a much less engaged evening of the two, but it led me down a rabbit hole of reading his (and his wife Kristen’s) thoughts and beliefs about women and careers. I wrote in detail about that experience HERE in a prior blog post. I feel like Elder Oaks receives a fair amount of (well deserved) criticism for a lifetime of misunderstanding and pain between himself and the LGBTQ community, but I rarely hear anyone discussing his views on women and girls. President Nelson is a very old man, and with each passing day the chances that we will wake up to a newly appointed President Oaks grows. I think it’s time we open the discussion about the future of LDS girls under his presidency. 

I recommend reading the entire post I linked to above for more context of my feelings about his opinions on women, but as a summary for those of you who are in a hurry, this is what Elder and Sister Oaks think about women having careers (in my own words):

“Men should definitely have dreams and goals, and they shouldn’t hesitate to take career paths that lead to long hours and time away from family duties if they really love it. Women should never prioritize career goals, and even if you’re 50 and still haven’t got married yet you should keep becoming a wife your number one priority. If you’re too successful, men will be intimidated and not want you. Brethren – your ambitions and dreams are ordained of God! Sisters – your ambitions and dreams are the lynchpin in Satan’s plan to destroy the family.”

I will admit that Elder Oaks is complicated when it comes to the discussion of working mothers because his father passed away when he was seven and he was raised by a single, working mom. He sings her praises at every chance he gets, which is notable. However, the impression I always get is that he believes a woman can enter the workforce if there is a desperate need, such as her young husband dying of tuberculosis unexpectedly (as happened to his mom). He does not seem to extend the same courtesy to women and girls who simply want to have a career. Their mental health and overall satisfaction with their lives does not reach the level of necessity where he would approve of them working. If a twenty-five-year-old woman came to him and said, “I have two little babies and I’m absolutely miserable at home. I want to go to law school like you did and become a Supreme Court Justice someday!”, I don’t think there’s a snowball’s chance in hell he would tell her to go for it, even though that’s exactly what he did as a young person.

The second Utah Supreme Court Justice that I (actually) spent an evening with is the amazing current Justice Diana Hagen.

I would like to preface here that I have absolutely no idea what Diana’s religious beliefs are. She might be LDS, she might not be. This is my opinion and not hers about everything I’m going to say, and if this makes it into her hands to read at some point I have only one message for her: I love you, Diana. My friends and I are forming a fan club and we will sell t-shirts with a big heart around your beautiful face.

Here’s the shirt. I just made it.

I met Justice Hagen in March of this year. I help run a large girl scout troop in Lehi, Utah, and we took our middle school aged girls to meet her after business hours at the Utah State Courthouse. She was incredibly kind and endlessly fascinating, not just for our girls but for the adult leaders there as well. She let us sit in the chairs where the justices sit to make their decisions, we toured the courthouse and hung out in her private judge’s chambers. She taught us about her role in the justice system and told us amazing stories about her life and career.

Originally she wanted to be an actress, but read a book that made her fall in love with the law. She was given an opportunity to attend law school on a scholarship, but during her first semester became discouraged because there were very few women in the law school. All of the men made her feel intimidated, and she assumed they were all much smarter and better prepared than she was. She almost dropped out, but her husband encouraged her to at least finish that first semester and see how she ranked and make her decision after that. (Apparently in law school you don’t get grades throughout the semester, you just take a test at the very end and your score on that test is your entire grade.)

When the test scores came back, much to Diana’s surprise, she was actually the number one student out of the entire class! All of the big talk by the male students around her had made her doubt herself, but when she realized she was just as qualified as any of the other students (in fact, even better at the law then any of them were) she went on to graduate and have an amazing career.

This story resonated with my own life experience so much. Right out of BYU at my first real job I outperformed (and outearned, because it was commission based) an entire department of almost all older men who had made me feel out of place and untalented at first, too. I’d almost quit eight weeks into that job because I’d been trying to follow the men’s rules for how to close business and sales, (which included silly testosterone driven tactics like, “Be aggressive! Find their pain! Make it hurt so much they can’t stand it and then offer them the way out!”) and one day a client started to laugh right out loud at me and then apologized immediately. He said, “I’m so sorry. Your voice is just so sweet and you are so friendly, and the words coming out of your mouth just don’t match.”

I went to the restroom after this incident to regroup, and I almost quit that day. I was clearly not cut out for this type of high-end sales job the way all of the men were, who’d been closing big business deals for decades and nobody laughed at them when they were doing it.

But I had two more weeks left on training wages before I went to straight commission, and I decided not to quit yet. Instead of using the extensive sales training all of the men had provided me, I just started to be myself (which at first amused them all to no end). We were selling education programs for big investors, so I’d been learning everything I could about the stock market, trading options, the currency market, etc., and I stopped seeing my clients as conquests and instead treated them like friends – because I really like people. The men around me at first thought I was wasting so much time chatting about people’s kids and their personal lives, but they stopped being so cocky when my sales started to catch up to – and then very quickly pass – their own. 

Because I didn’t quit that very male dominated sales floor, within my first year I’d shattered the company’s all time weekly sales records and was awarded Rookie of the Year. My income was four or five times that of many of the other salesmen. Yet I had almost quit, just like Diana Hagen, because I was surrounded by intimidating men and doubted my ability as a young woman to do the job they were all doing.

I did really well during my short-lived sales career (it was just under two years) before having my first baby, and I’ve wondered many times how well I could’ve done in the business world or law or something else that required all of the same talents that made me so good at high end sales. I pulled these two awards out of a box in my basement to take a picture of them for this post. The plaque on the right was hanging on the wall my last day of work and I took it with me on my way out. (I’m glad I did!)

When Diana Hagen told her story of being intimidated in law school but turning out to be absolutely exceptional at her law career, it mirrored my own feelings as a young woman in that sales position. And yet, our paths diverged there because I gave up my talents in the business world to be a stay-at-home parent and support my husband’s career, while she pursued her career with her husband’s full support. (And to be clear, I also had my husband’s full support to continue working if I had chosen to, but my own mental shackles from a lifetime of prophetic statements about the evils of women working outside the home were too much for me to overcome. I chose to give up my ambitions and talents in the workplace for what I thought would be a better reward – pleasing Heavenly Father with my obedience to church leaders.)

Justice Hagen has done amazing and interesting things in the world of law, while also having two children and being a mother. She spent a year gathering evidence for the case that proved Brian David Mitchell was mentally competent to stand trial and face consequences for his kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart. She was in the court sketches provided to media outlets and on the wall of her judge’s chambers hangs a signed copy of the newspaper breaking the news of her success, signed by Elizabeth Smart herself. As she told what she had to do for that case (interviewing every nurse that ever interacted with Mitchell at the state hospital, psychology research, organizing her case against him), I realized that it sounded like so much fun. Since I’d been so gifted at sales and talking people into seeing my point of view, it occurred to me that I probably would’ve been really good at convincing juries and judges to see my point of view, too. 

Diana Hagen sat in her chambers and talked to our girls about her life and career. I don’t doubt she would’ve been a great stay at home mom if she’d chosen to be one, but the idea that women belong exclusively at home has eliminated so much female talent and influence from the public sphere. I am so grateful that Justice Hagen listened to her inner voice and followed her dreams. All of Utah is better off for her decision.


These memoirs from the Brian David Mitchell case hang on the wall of Justice Hagen’s chambers. I love that this powerhouse of a woman helped bring justice to this evil predator in her feminine pink suit.

On the walls in the hallways outside the courtroom were portraits of all the past justices, including Dallin Oaks. He (just like Diana Hagen) loved the law and worked long hours and adored his career. Yet in the very next breath after describing how much his law career fulfilled him, he will counsel the importance of women to never seeking that same fulfillment for themselves. He believes their lives should be complete by watching their husbands have a fulfilling career while caring for his home and children.

This man is next in line to be the head of the church, but it often feels to me like he doesn’t recognize the humanity of women at all. The idea that we could have the same longing for success in a career path as a man doesn’t seem to occur to him. When I look at him, I see a man amused by my silly feminine ambitions to have done more with my life than just help a man achieve his best life.

Being there with Justice Hagen and then seeing Elder Oaks hanging on the wall, a man who by his words alone had effectively kept me out of places like this made me want to accidentally trip and grab his portrait and smash it into the floor. Elder Oaks, based on all of the many sermons and interviews I’ve read from him, would never encourage my girl scouts to go into the field of law if they had any ability to be a stay-at-home mom instead.

My friend Darci (more of her story to come) and I took this selfie together with his portrait that night, wondering why he was secluded on a wall all by himself, when everyone else was lined up together along the hallways. Did the other portraits think he was kind of mean?

I like to imagine an alternate universe where he started law school, fell deeply in love with the law, and then was told he must quit and stay home alone with his children from dawn to dusk like his first wife did. In his biography there are stories of the many church callings that would take him away from his law practice and force him to finish work late at night after fulfilling his church duties. He always made it a priority to be home for dinner with his family (which I presume his wife prepared each night), then would go right back to either law or church work until bedtime. (As an army wife with years of deployments under my belt, his wife’s experience sounds a lot like mine except she also had to make a hot dinner for her absent spouse each night, while I could get away with feeding my kids cold cereal.)

In contrast to Elder Oaks’ discouragement for girls to choose a career path other than full time other motherhood, Justice Hagen handed out her business cards to all of our girls. She promised to help any of them who ever wanted to go to law school, talked about her supportive husband who was a stay-at-home dad, and gave these Hershey bars out for the girls to take home:

This is my own daughter and I with Justice Hagen.

On the wall here is the portrait of the very first female Utah Supreme Court Justice ever, Christine Durham. Diana Hagen explained to the girls that while she was personally welcomed to the supreme court with open arms in 2022, Justice Durham unfortunately did not receive such a warm welcome when she joined the bench in 1982. I have absolutely zero idea what her interaction with Elder Oaks was at the time, and Justice Durham appears to be friends with him to this day – but Elder Oaks was appointed to the bench in 1981, so he was a fairly new member of the supreme court when that first female member ever was appointed and confirmed. I know that Durham is LDS, so I can’t help but wonder how the Oaks that I have become so familiar with over the years reacted to an LDS mother in 1982 joining him for a job that he seemed to feel was only appropriate for men to aspire to and obtain. Was he welcoming and kind? Was he cold and distant? Did Christine love his friendship, or was it Christine who moved his portrait to a lone wall with no framed friends around him when she retired as chief justice in 2012? I will probably never know.

I went home that night and couldn’t sleep, wondering what would’ve happened if I had known I could go to law school back in my twenties. I mean, technically I knew I could – but I also knew I really couldn’t if I wanted to follow God’s plan for my life as a woman. I sacrificed my entire identity to start having babies, and this is something I now have to grapple with in my early forties. I certainly don’t hate my life or my family – but I do kind of hate not realizing it was possible to have had my family AND a career, just like men do every single day.

I know it’s never too late, but…it kind of is. There is irreparable damage done to my ability to have a career because even if I started one tomorrow, I would still be twenty years behind every single man in the same field. It just doesn’t seem like a reasonable or logical option to me right now. My life works how it is now just fine, and I’m not dying to start school over again or go into an entry level position somewhere. That doesn’t stop me from thinking of what might have been if I had considered other options as a young BYU student. 

I asked two of my good friends (and co-leaders in my girl scout troop) Darci and Ashlee to share some of their experiences in this topic. Darci was with me the night we met Justice Hagen, and all of our daughters were as well.

Darci (from the Oaks selfie pic with me) dropped out of college to become a young mother to her daughter Mona here. She just went back to school 12 months ago to finally finish her degree in education.
Here is young Darci and baby Mona.

These are Darci’s words about her education as an LDS woman:

Darci’s daughter Mona (sitting in the supreme court in a justice’s chair) will not feel limited in her potential if any of us have a say in it!

Another co-leader in my troop named Ashlee sent her daughter Averie to the courthouse with us that night. When Ashlee graduated high school, she had no idea what to do next because no one had ever talked to her about college or what her next step would be – except for getting married and becoming a mother.

Fast forward to 2023, and Ashlee just finished her master’s degree a few weeks before her fortieth birthday and is working as a school counselor. In addition to obtaining two degrees while having three children, Ashlee’s been influential in setting policies and procedures for how behaviors with children are handled with DCFS and the school district, she owns a home, and is financially independent (without her husband’s income). 

Her success is inspiring and she worked very hard to accomplish her goals, but what if she had been encouraged to make plans and have ambitions as a young woman right out of high school instead of figuring it out on her own after she already had kids? To this day Ashlee’s parents don’t acknowledge her academic and professional success. When listing his children’s accomplishments her father’s only item for Ashlee is that she’s the mother of three.

This is a young Ashlee with her first baby.
This is Ashlee with her family this past weekend, celebrating her 20-year anniversary.
This is Averie on the night of our visit to Justice Hagen.

The current younger generation of girls should feel more empowered to seek careers than those of us from the Ezra Taft Benson era (or who were taught by leaders and parents from that era) did. There are even female auxiliary leaders in the church now who openly discuss their decision to work outside the home (which still shocks me every time I see it happen).

Camille Johnson (former general primary president, current Relief Society president, and lawyer for 30 years) mentioned the women who blessed her in her professional life in this Instagram post.
This comment came from a woman who brought up the very real belief that women working outside of the home was considered a “sin” for many of us, and President Johnson gave her comment three emoji hearts. Things are looking up for girls, at least with the female leaders!

These small changes (like calling women who have had professional careers into auxiliary leadership positions) are great, but until women are treated as full humans, with their righteous desires and ambitions treated with the same dignity and worth as a man’s – especially by the man who will soon be the leader of the LDS church – this community will only be Zion for half of the population.

PS. I’ve written a couple other blog posts about women and careers if you’re interested in more thoughts on the topic:

What Could I Have Done Differently With My Life if I Wasn’t Raised LDS? – Exponent II

Can LDS Moms Stop Feeling Guilty for Wanting a Career Now? – Exponent II


  1. An adult lifetime of doggedly following the Brethren, believing that they were speaking for God regarding women, has been devastating. I don’t regret having my marriage and my three children, at all, but back in the 80s, the penalties were pretty high stakes. I joined the church in the 70s, when I was in the Army. Very soon after, there was a talk by RS General Pres Barbara B. Smith wherein she said that women don’t belong in the military, that our presence would weaken it, that we have more important work to do in the home. (I’m paraphrasing based on decades old memories). The following Sunday, several different members of the branch approached me and asked whether or not I’d now get out of the Army. Uh, no. I still had 18 or so months left on my enlistment contract and afterwards, I went into the Reserve. But wow, the very idea that a leader can say something belittling, untrue, and obnoxious, and we were supposed to just blindly follow what they’d said was appalling. In the 80’s the church was really cracking down on women working outside the home, sometimes not allowing “working” women temple recommends (up to local leaders). Toxic all the way, and I was too blind to see it. I love your article.

    • I’m an army wife, and I say the more women in the military the better it gets! It’s so frustrating that people were speaking on topics they had zero authority or knowledge of (like women in the armed forces) and telling people definitively what to do with their lives. (And again today, leaders continue to speak on issues they have no authority to be speaking on.) Thanks for your comment!

  2. This resonates so deeply for me. It never occurred to me I was capable of a career until I was washing dishes with two small children one day and randomly thought, “I could have gone to law school”. I was so stunned by the thought I burst into tears, turned the faucet off and sat down. Granted, I had no interest in law, but two months after turning 40 I took the GRE to apply for graduate school. I also can’t help wondering what the last two decades of my life would have looked like had I felt “permission” to pursue more than motherhood. Now, I am pursuing it for myself but also because I realized I cannot teach my daughter to fly if I am still sitting on the couch. When I asked my 14 yr old son and 11 yr old daughter how they would feel about me going back to school both were supportive. But when my daughter enthusiastically said, “That would be awesome! Then you could have a career you love” it brought tears to my eyes. She will never believe there is only one way to be a Jesus following woman.

    • We were always told our children would be devastated if we weren’t at home with them every day. Now my kids are 10, 14 and 16 – yes they like me to drive them places, but no, they are not devastated if I’m not there for them after school each day. They don’t care. Surely there is more to life for moms than just being on call 24/7 for teenagers who think you aren’t cool (even though I’m very cool 😅).

  3. Even though I took a lot of crap from both leaders and peers for daring to have a career, I did. I worked part time when my children were young but as soon as the youngest was in middle school I went full time. As I stated, it caused some pushback from the “deer leaders” ( pun intended) yet nobody ever turned down the tithing from my income…..🤔.

  4. I sorrow for those women who choose to ignore Heavenly Fathers plan and put career ahead of family. Some women have family and express their talents. Read about Susa Young Gates.

    Born Susa Young
    March 18, 1856
    Salt Lake City, Utah Territory,
    Died May 27, 1933 (aged 77)
    Salt Lake City
    Resting place Provo City Cemetery
    40.225°N 111.644°W
    Alma mater Brigham Young Academy
    Notable works Founded the Young Woman’s Journal and the Relief Society Magazine
    Spouse(s) Alma B. Dunford (1872-1877; divorced)
    Jacob F. Gates (1880-1933)
    Children 13
    Parents Brigham Young
    Lucy Bigelow

    • Are you actually trying to say that women should have 13 children and three husbands and struggle financially? I’m guessing Ms Young would have much preferred to earn her own money than marry and divorce a drunk. Do you think having 13 kids with three husbands was God’s plan for her? What a joke. I’m guessing it was her only option at the time. Women are capable of doing anything they put their mind to. Most women have kids and a job and they are great at both. Gender roles are made up – not god given. Buying into them proves that sexism thrives in a religion run by rich, white men who love to tell other people what to do with their lives. Women, choose for yourselves what makes you happy. Be a mom, go to school, have a career, follow your dreams and don’t marry anyone who isn’t supportive of you and all your dreams. Stop listening to the ridiculous narrative of what you should be according to old white Mormon men. It only benefits them (and Jared) for women to stop following their dreams. It doesn’t benefit you.

  5. Jared: I was told in a very powerful priesthood blessing to stop worrying about marriage and concentrate on my career. Please don’t assume Heavenly Father has the same plan for all women.

  6. Oaks doesn’t deserve an iota of anybody‘s attention. He’s already said anything interesting he ever had to say, and on balance he’s said more harmful than helpful stuff. My most fervent wish is for people to just stop paying attention to him.

  7. I’ve been thinking about this post ever since you published it. Thank you for writing this.

    I read the story about Diana Hagen’s first semester of Law School to my daughter the other day. She’s struggling with a class in school, and is considering dropping it. I’m fine if she drops the class, but I also wanted her to know that maybe she isn’t doing any worse than the other students. I read her that story to help her realize that lots of people second guess how well they are doing and to not think that everyone else is doing better. She came home from school yesterday and told me, “Mom I got a D on the quiz – but so did everyone else!” So maybe she’ll stick it out.

    I’m fascinated by the image of Dallen Oaks’ portrait being by itself. That’s so interesting. I wonder why it’s there? I laughed out loud when you said that maybe the other portraits thought he was kind of mean.

    I have complicated feelings about Oaks becoming the president of the church. For years he was one of my favorite apostles because I liked his writing and speaking style. (I’m a direct person so I liked the way he can get directly to the point.) But then that directness started to attack ideas and people that are important to me. Now he just seems grumpy and stubborn.

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