Susan Christensen is least experienced Iowa chief justice in decades

Less than nineteen months after being appointed to the Iowa Supreme Court, Susan Christensen is now that body’s chief justice. Justice David Wiggins had served as acting leader on the high court since the unexpected passing of Chief Justice Mark Cady in November.

When Governor Kim Reynolds, Republican lawmakers, and one or more Supreme Court justices schemed last year to end Cady’s term early, Justice Thomas Waterman was widely seen as the chief-in-waiting. However, by the time Reynolds appointed Cady’s replacement, Dana Oxley, in late January, multiple sources indicated Waterman was no longer interested in the job. The seven justices elected Christensen on February 24.

It’s been many years since a justice has risen so quickly to the Iowa Supreme Court’s most senior position.

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Why Matthew McDermott will likely be Iowa's next Supreme Court justice

UPDATE: Reynolds didn’t pick McDermott this time but appointed him to the Iowa Supreme Court in April 2020. Bleeding Heartland covered highlights from his application and interview here.

After interviewing twelve applicants, the State Judicial Nominating Commission forwarded three names to Governor Kim Reynolds on January 9 to fill the vacancy created by Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Cady’s passing in November.  Reynolds has 30 days to appoint one of the finalists, but there’s no suspense here: she will almost certainly choose Matthew McDermott.

A computer program couldn’t generate a more ideal judicial candidate for a Republican governor seeking to move Iowa courts to the right.

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The 19 Bleeding Heartland posts I worked hardest on in 2019

Five years ago, I started taking stock of my most labor-intensive posts near the end of each year. Not all of these are my favorite projects, though invariably, some of my favorites end up on these compilations.

Before getting to the countdown for 2019, I want to give another shout out to guest authors who poured an extraordinary amount of work into two posts Bleeding Heartland published last year.

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Hear Chief Justice Mark Cady's passionate appeal to combat implicit bias

Devastating news: Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Cady passed away on November 15, having suffered a heart attack.

Best known for writing the court’s unanimous opinion in the Varnum v Brien marriage equality case, Cady was a staunch supporter of civil rights. Since becoming chief justice in 2011, he was often the swing vote on Iowa’s high court and concurred in many 4-3 opinions.

Appointed by Governor Terry Branstad in 1998, Cady sometimes aligned with the high court’s conservatives–for instance, on upholding Iowa’s felon disenfranchisement system. Sometimes he joined his more liberal colleagues–for instance, on juvenile sentencing. Cady also authored last year’s opinion that found Iowa’s constitution protects a woman’s right to an abortion. Seventeen months later, three of the five justices who joined that landmark ruling are gone. (Justice Bruce Zager retired, and Justice Daryl Hecht died.)

Bleeding Heartland intends to publish several reflections on Cady’s legacy in the coming weeks. For now, I want to share the chief justice’s remarks at the recent Iowa Summit on Justice and Disparities.

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