Iowa Supreme Court

From Judgepedia
Jump to: navigation, search

Iowa Supreme Court
Court information
Justices:   7
Founded:   1846
Chief:  $171,000
Associates:  $163,000
Judicial selection
Method:   Comm. select., Gov. appt.
Term:   8 years
Active justices

Mark Cady  •  David Wiggins  •  Daryl Hecht  •  Brent Appel  •  Edward Mansfield  •  Bruce B. Zager  •  Thomas Waterman  •  

Seal of Iowa.png

The Iowa Supreme Court is the court of last resort for the state of Iowa.


The current justices of the court are:
JudgeTermSelected by
Chief Justice Mark Cady1998-2016Gov. Terry E. Branstad
Justice David Wiggins2003-2020Gov. Tom Vilsack
Justice Daryl Hecht2006-2016Gov. Tom Vilaack
Justice Brent Appel2006-2016Gov. Tom Vilsack
Justice Edward Mansfield2011-2020Gov. Terry E. Branstad
Justice Bruce B. Zager2011-2020Gov. Terry E. Branstad
Justice Thomas Waterman2011-2020Gov. Terry E. Branstad


In the Iowa Supreme Court, there is mandatory jurisdiction in civil, criminal, administrative agency, juvenile, disciplinary, certified questions from Federal courts and original proceeding cases.[1]

Judicial selection

In 1962, a constitutional amendment was passed which changed the court's method of judicial selection to a commission-selection, political appointment method, sometimes referred to as "merit selection". This amendment applies to all appellate and district court justices. Judicial nominees are selected by the State Judicial Nominating Commission. The governor then makes the appointment from the list submitted by the commission. One year after the appointment, the justice must stand for retention in the next general election. If they are not retained, their term ends on January 1 following the election. Once retained, justices serve for eight-year terms. The mandatory retirement age for justices is 72. The justices elect their chief justice.[2][3]


Justices must be lawyers admitted to practice in Iowa. They must be able to serve a full term of office before reaching the mandatory retirement age of 72.[2]

Removal of justices

Iowa judges may be removed by:

  1. Impeachment - requires a majority vote of the house of representatives and conviction by two-thirds of the senate.
  2. The Iowa Judicial Qualifications Commission - the commission investigates complaints of misconduct and may recommend that the supreme court remove of a justice from office. The supreme court may not discipline or remove judges or justices without a report from this commission.[4][5]
  3. Voters - Justices must be retained by voters at the end of their terms. If they do not receive a majority of votes in favor of their retention, they must leave the court.

2010 removal of justices

See also: News: Three Iowa Supreme Court justices ousted from court, November 3, 2010

In the 2010 election, three supreme court justices--David Baker, Marsha Ternus and Michael Streit--were voted off the court. This was the first time any supreme court justice was not retained since the retention system began in 1962. The removal was linked to backlash from the court's 2009 ruling in Varnum v. Brien that removed the state's ban on gay marriage (see "Notable decisions" section below for details). The three justices had supported the removal of the ban and faced retention opposition from groups that opposed gay marriage.


The Iowa Supreme Court does not provide specific numbers on its yearly caseload. According to a state judiciary publication, however:

  • Approximately 2,000 appeals are filed with the supreme court each year.
  • Of those, criminal appeals represent nearly 30%, appeals involving the termination of parental rights and children in need of assistance represent 25% and family law appeals represent almost 20%.[6]

Political outlook

See also: Political outlook of State Supreme Court Justices

In October 2012, political science professors Adam Bonica and Michael Woodruff of Stanford University attempted to determine the partisan outlook of state supreme court justices in their paper, State Supreme Court Ideology and 'New Style' Judicial Campaigns. A score above 0 indicated a more conservative leaning ideology while scores below 0 were more liberal. The state Supreme Court of Iowa was given a Campaign finance score (CFscore) which was calculated for judges in October 2012. At that time, Iowa received a score of 0.21. Based on the justices selected, Iowa was the 15th most conservative court. The study is based on data from campaign contributions by judges themselves, the partisan leaning of contributors to the judges or, in the absence of elections, the ideology of the appointing body (governor or legislature). This study is not a definitive label of a justice but rather, an academic gauge of various factors.[7]

Notable decisions

Question of gay marriage before the court

  • Varnum v. Brien
In early December 2008, an attorney for a half dozen gay couples challenging Iowa’s same-sex marriage ban argued before the state supreme court that the law violated his clients’ constitutional rights.[11] This case has been in the legal system for more than three years, and it could take a year or more for the Iowa Supreme Court to issue a ruling after hearing oral arguments.[12]
On April 3, 2009, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled unanimously to overturn the State's ban on gay marriage (striking the language from Iowa Code section 595.2). With this ruling, Iowa became the first state in the Midwest to fully recognize gay marriage.[13] The Iowa Supreme Court unanimously upheld a lower-court ruling that rejected a state law restricting marriage to a union between a man and woman, saying it violates the constitutional rights of equal protection. The ruling upheld an August 30, 2007 ruling where the Polk County District Court determined the statute was unconstitutional under the due process and equal protection clauses of the Iowa Constitution. The district court initially ordered the county recorder to begin processing marriage licenses for same-sex couples, but stayed the order during the pendency of an appeal.[14]
Gay and lesbian couples were able to exchange vows as of April 24, 2009, following the landmark decision.[15]
A study by UCLA concluded that the ruling could draw the business of gay couples to Iowa from neighboring states. It estimated that Iowa could draw 55,000 out-of-state couples who spend money on weddings and tourism-related activities. A total of $160 million in new spending from this influx of couples was estimated for the three years following the ruling.[16]
Advocates for same-sex marriage celebrated the ruling as a breakthrough for civil rights, while conservative critics called the ruling an attack on traditional marriage and said the court overstepped its authority.[16] This Iowa ruling was expected to set certain precedents for nearby states as they considered changing their laws to recognize domestic partnerships. Additionally, some states at this time were trying to get their own high courts to overturn bans on gay marriage that had been already been approved by the voters on the ballot and initiative process.[15]
Attorney Camilla Taylor of Lambda Legal, who led the challenge to the Iowa ban, said the group plans to work to overturn bans in other Midwestern states, including Wisconsin.[15]

First Iowa Supreme Court decision

  • In Re the Matter of Ralph, July 1839
In the Iowa Supreme Court's first decision, they found that a slave residing in the 'free territory' of Iowa could not be returned to their slave owner across state lines (in Missouri) even if they had not paid the agreed upon amount to secure their freedom in the negotiated time.[17] This ruling came long before the Dred Scott v. Sandford case (1857), which found in favor of the slave holder, and not the slave.


Financial disclosure

See also: Center for Public Integrity Study on State Supreme Court Disclosure Requirements

In December 2013, the Center for Public Integrity released a study on disclosure requirements for state supreme court judges. Analysts from the Center reviewed the rules governing financial disclosure in each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia, as well as personal financial disclosures for the past three years. The study found that 42 states and Washington D.C. received failing grades. Iowa earned a grade of F in the study. No state received a grade higher than "C". Furthermore, due in part to these lax disclosure standards, the study found 35 instances of questionable gifts, investments overlapping with caseloads and similar potential ethical quandaries. The study also noted 14 cases in which justices participated although they or their spouses held stock in the company involved in the litigation.[18]


The Iowa Supreme Court in Des Moines, Iowa

In 1846, Iowa joined the United States. Following the constitution of the federal government, the powers of the government in Iowa were divided into the legislative branch, the executive branch, and the judicial branch. In the judicial branch, the General Assembly divided the state into four judicial districts, and Supreme court justices were to serve six-year terms, while district judges were elected for five year terms. The Iowa Constitution of 1857 increased the judicial districts from four to 11, and allowed the General Assembly to reorganize districts after 1860 and every four years thereafter.[19]

Notable firsts

  • In Re the Matter of Ralph was the first decision of the Iowa Supreme Court, which occurred in July 1839.[17]
  • Iowa was the first state to admit women to the practice of law in 1869.

See also

External links



See also: Iowa judicial elections, 2012

Justices David Wiggins, Edward Mansfield, Bruce B. Zager, and Thomas Waterman were all up for retention in 2012; all were retained. Wiggins had previously been retained; Mansfield, Zager, and Waterman were up for retention for the first time.

CandidateIncumbentRetention vote:Retention Vote %
ZagerBruce B. Zager   ApprovedAYes 74.1%ApprovedA
WigginsDavid Wiggins   ApprovedAYes 54.5%ApprovedA
MansfieldEdward Mansfield   ApprovedAYes 74.3%ApprovedA
WatermanThomas Waterman   ApprovedAYes 74.8%ApprovedA


See also: 2010 State Supreme Court elections

Justices David Baker, Marsha Ternus, and Michael Streit were all up for retention in 2010; all were defeated. Percentages in the below tables indicate the percentages against retention.

Iowa Supreme Court
2010 General election results
Candidates Votes Percent
David Baker DefeatedD n/a 54.19%
Iowa Supreme Court
2010 General election results
Candidates Votes Percent
Marsha Ternus DefeatedD n/a 55.04%
Iowa Supreme Court
2010 General election results
Candidates Votes Percent
Michael Streit DefeatedD n/a 54.43%


See also: State Supreme Court elections, 2008

Justices Mark S. Cady, Daryl L. Hecht, and Brent R. Appel were up for retention in 2008; all were retained.

Iowa Supreme Court
2008 General election results
Candidates Votes Percent
Mark S. Cady BallotCheckMark.png n/a n/a
Iowa Supreme Court
2008 General election results
Candidates Votes Percent
Daryl Hecht BallotCheckMark.png n/a n/a
Iowa Supreme Court
2008 General election results
Candidates Votes Percent
Brent Appel BallotCheckMark.png n/a n/a

IowaIowa Supreme CourtIowa Court of AppealsIowa district courtsUnited States District Court for the Northern District of IowaUnited States District Court for the Southern District of IowaUnited States bankruptcy court, Northern District of IowaUnited States bankruptcy court, Southern District of IowaUnited States Court of Appeals for the Eighth CircuitIowa countiesIowa judicial newsIowa judicial electionsJudicial selection in IowaIowaTemplate.jpg