Federal courts will be lost for a generation as an avenue for protecting civil liberties, now that President Donald Trump will be able to replace U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy in addition to stacking district and circuit courts with dozens of right-wing ideologues. (Iowa Supreme Court Justice Edward Mansfield and Eighth Circuit Appeals Court Judge Steven Colloton were on the list of 21 possible Supreme Court picks Trump released during the 2016 campaign.) The growing conservative grip on the federal courts means more and more important legal battles will be fought at the state level.
Governor Kim Reynolds will fill an Iowa Supreme Court vacancy later this year, after Justice Bruce Zager retires. Today the judicial branch published the applications for fifteen women and seven men who are seeking to replace Zager.
Iowa is the only state with no women on its highest court. Only two women have ever served as Iowa Supreme Court justices; the second, former Chief Justice Marsha Ternus, lost her seat in the 2010 retention election. Women are also underrepresented on lower Iowa courts.
For those reasons, I anticipate that at least two if not three women will be on the short list the State Judicial Nominating Commission will send Reynolds after interviewing the applicants. The governor is required to appoint one of the three people on that list.
No person of color has ever served on the Iowa Supreme Court. Twenty of the applicants are white, Romonda Belcher is African American, and Christopher McDonald listed his race as both Vietnamese and white/Caucasian.
The Iowa Judicial Branch posted all the contenders here. Here are the fifteen women, in alphabetical order. Click on any candidate’s name to read the application.
• Romonda Belcher was the first African-American woman on the Iowa bench. She has been a Polk County District associate judge since 2010.
• Mary Chichelly is a District Court judge in Linn County.
• Susan Christensen is a District Court judge in Shelby County.
• Terri Combs is an attorney in private practice in West Des Moines (Polk County).
• Jean Dickson is an attorney in private practice in Bettendorf (Scott County).
• Barbara Diment is an attorney in private practice in West Des Moines (Polk County).
• Mary Pat Gunderson is a former prosecutor, magistrate judge, and District Court judge from Polk County. On her application, she noted that no one on the Iowa Supreme Court has experience at the magistrate level, “where Judges deal most directly with litigants.” She also mentioned two terms as secretary of the Iowa Senate, which gave her a “deep respect for the legislative process.”
• Christine Lebron-Dykeman is an attorney in private practice in Des Moines.
• Kellyann Lekar is a District Court judge in Black Hawk County; she has been chief judge since 2012.
• Lana Luhring is an attorney in private practice in Benton County.
• Dustria Relph is a District Court judge in Wayne County.
• Anjela Shutts is an attorney in private practice in Des Moines.
• Abbe Stensland is chief risk officer and general counsel for a bank in Cedar County.
• Molly Weber is an assistant attorney general from Dallas County. She previously clerked for several judges and worked in the Office of the Chief Counsel of the U.S. Secret Service.
• Lisa Williams is an assistant U.S. attorney in Johnson County.
Here are the male applicants:
• Timothy Gartin is an attorney in private practice in Ames (Story County).
• Andrew Kahl is an assistant U.S. attorney in Polk County with extensive federal court litigation experience.
• Mitchell Kunert is an attorney in private practice in Des Moines. He wrote on his application, “As a gay man I would focus on increasing diversity in the court system to continue to ensure that all types of people are represented and heard.”
• Christopher McDonald serves on the Iowa Court of Appeals. He mentioned on his application that he chaired the Iowa Asian Alliance, working with various ethnic communities and building coalitions with the African-American Business Association and Allianza. McDonald said those experiences helped make him “open-minded and receptive to different perspectives” and “heightened my awareness and understanding of access-to-justice and substantive-justice concerns for racial and ethnic minorities and the poor.”
• Craig Nierman is an attorney in private practice in Johnson County.
• Allan Richards is an attorney in private practice in Tama County.
• Patrick Tott is a District Court judge in Woodbury County.