Commission sends Iowa Supreme Court short list to Branstad

After interviewing 60 applicants for the three vacancies on the Iowa Supreme Court this week, the State Judicial Nominating Commission sent Governor Terry Branstad a list of nine candidates on January 27. After the jump I’ve posted the press release naming the nine finalists. Five are lower-court judges (four district court, one appeals court), three are attorneys in private practice, and one is on the University of Iowa law school faculty. Branstad has to select three appointees within the next thirty days. Click here for information about and writing samples by all 60 applicants.

My first thought on reading the short list was that going forward, Iowa’s high court will have no women justices for the first time in many years. Twelve women applied for the Supreme Court vacancies, including District Court Judge Annette Scieszinski of Ottumwa and two assistant attorneys general, Jeanie Vaudt and Elisabeth Reynoldson. Since former Chief Justice Marsha Ternus was not retained by Iowa voters and had been the only woman on the court, I expected the commission to include at least a couple of women on the nominees list sent to Branstad. However, only University of Iowa Professor Angela Onwuachi-Willig made the short list, and I see zero chance Branstad will select her. It’s not that she is the youngest of the nine candidates; at her age (37), Branstad was governor of Iowa. The salient fact is that Onwuachi-Willig submitted a friend of the court brief in the Varnum v Brien case, supporting the plaintiffs who were seeking to have the Defense of Marriage Act struck down. I can’t imagine any scenario in which Branstad chooses a public supporter of marriage equality for a judgeship.

Nathan Tucker of the recently-formed conservative 501(c)4 group Iowa Judicial Watch posted the party affiliations and campaign donation history of all nine finalists, as well as links to their application materials and interviews with the judicial nominating commission. Eight of the finalists refused to fill out Iowa Judicial Watch’s questionnaire. Appeals Court Judge Edward Mansfield filled out most of the lengthy document but declined to answer question 26, containing some three dozen more specific questions about his “judicial ideology.” Still, Tucker took a cheap shot at Mansfield, stating, “Though a registered Republican, Mansfield’s wife has donated good and services to Planned Parenthood.” Dangling modifiers aside, donations by Mansfield’s wife don’t necessarily reflect the judge’s views and certainly don’t affect his competence to serve on the Iowa Supreme Court. Looks to me like Tucker wanted to signal to The Iowa Republican blog’s readership that they should oppose Mansfield despite his Republican affiliation.

A more extensive update on news related to the Iowa Supreme Court is in progress. Meanwhile, share any relevant thoughts in this thread.

P.S. Before the commission began interviewing candidates, Iowa House Judiciary Committee Chairman Richard Anderson withdrew his application to serve on the Iowa Supreme Court.

UPDATE: Only two women have ever served on the Iowa Supreme Court: Linda Neuman from 1986 to 2003 and Marsha Ternus from 1993 to the end of 2010. If appointed by Branstad (she won’t be), Onwuachi-Willig, who is black, would be the first ethnic minority on the Iowa Supreme Court.

State Judicial Nominating Commission

January 27, 2011

Commission Names Nominees for Iowa Supreme Court

Des Moines, Iowa, January 27, 2011-After completing public interviews of all 60 applicants, the State Judicial Nominating Commission has selected a slate of nine nominees to fill the vacancies on the Iowa Supreme Court that occurred when the terms of Chief Justice Marsha Ternus, Justice Michael Streit and Justice David Baker ended on December 31, 2010. The nominees are:

Robert James Blink, West Des Moines, Age 60

District Judge (appointed 1995)-Fifth Judicial District

J.D., 1975, Drake University

Arthur E. Gamble, Clive, Age 58

District Judge (appointed 1983), Chief Judge (appointed 1995)-Fifth Judicial District

J.D., 1978, University of Iowa

John C. Gray, Sioux City, Age 56

Attorney-Heidman Law Firm

J.D., 1981, University of Iowa

Steven Verne Lawyer, New Virginia, Age 45

Attorney-Law Firm of Steven V. Lawyer & Associates, PLC

J.D., 1991, Drake University

Edward M. Mansfield, Des Moines, Age 53

Iowa Court of Appeals Judge (appointed 2009)

J.D., 1982, Yale

Michael R. Mullins, Washington, Age 58

District Judge (appointed 2002)-Eighth Judicial District

J.D., 1982, Drake University

Angela Onwuachi-Willig, Grinnell, Age 37

Professor of Law, University of Iowa

J.D., 1997, University of Michigan

Thomas Dana Waterman, Pleasant Valley, Age 51

Attorney-Lane & Waterman L.L.P.

J.D., 1984, University of Iowa

Bruce B. Zager, Waterloo, Age 58

District Judge (appointed 1999)-First Judicial District

J.D., 1980, Drake University

Governor Branstad has thirty days in which to make the appointments to the court from this slate of nominees. A summary resume, completed questionnaire and writing samples for each candidate are posted on the Judicial Branch website at:

Archived video of each of the applicant interviews is available at

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  • All white males?

    “I see zero chance Branstad will select her.” you wrote.

    Branstad already said we are overdue for a woman governor. Surely a man with such sentiments can’t abide an all male Supreme Court.

    • of the dozen women who applied

      to serve on the Iowa Supreme Court, the one the judicial nominating commission sent to Branstad is probably the only one he would not consider appointing under any circumstances. That’s not what I would have done if I served on the commission, but that’s how it is.

      • But, but

        If they saw her as the most promising candidate, they did the right thing.  Still, it’s surprising that only one woman of twelve made the cut, whereas men had a one in six chance of getting on the short list.

        When a list is self-selected like these applicants, it’s hard to know if the women really were less qualified, or if the commission (all male itself?) is biased.  

        • several lower-court judges

          who are women applied, and I don’t think you could seriously argue that they were less qualified than Onwuachi-Willig. I am not saying she isn’t qualified, just that she shouldn’t (in my opinion) have been the only woman on the short list.