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Vacant Iowa Supreme Court Seat Creates Surge of Female Applicants

Iowa Supreme Court justices hear oral arguments in case over abortion law requiring a 72-hour waiting period. (WHO-HD)

DES MOINES, Iowa — The search to find a new Iowa Supreme Court Justice is underway after a longtime member announced he will resign.

Justice Bruce Zager will resign from his seat on September 3rd. He has served on the court since 2011. Several applicants have already put their name into the hat for his job and the majority of applicants are women. The State Judicial Nominating Commission says that is a historic first. Of the 22 applicants, 15 of them are female. Data provided by the commission shows for every time there was a Supreme Court vacancy on average about four women would apply for the position.

Two women have held seats on the Iowa Supreme Court in the past but currently, Iowa is the only state in the country without a female justice on the high court.

“I think it’s really important for the high court to reflect a variety of perspectives. I think the general perception of being a women gives you a different perspective on a lot of important issues that come through the court,” says Jerry Anderson, Dean of the Drake University Law School

Anderson says a strong push for education and support from local organizations helped female attorneys feel like they were strong enough candidates to apply. However, he blames a systemic problem on the reason few women applied in the past.

“There aren’t as many women in the lower courts which are generally feeders for the Supreme Court. Litigation is a type of practice that doesn’t have as high of a percentage of women lawyers compared to some of the other types of law,” he says.

In Iowa, a person of color has never been nominated to the Supreme Court. However, Anderson points out the list of current candidates is diverse. Both a person of color and member of the LGBTQ community have applied. The applicants will go before the commission for interviews on July 9th.

The applicants for the court are:

Romonda Belcher, District Associate Judge, Fifth Judicial District, Des Moines

Mary Chicchelly, District Court Judge, Sixth Judicial District, Cedar Rapids

Susan Christensen, District Court Judge, Fourth Judicial District, Harlan

Terri Combs, Attorney, Faegre Baker Daniels, LLP, West Des Moines

Jean Dickson, Attorney, Betty, Neuman & McMahon, PLC, Bettendorf

Barb Diment, Attorney, Barb Diment Law PLC, West Des Moines

Timothy Gartin, Attorney, Hastings, Gartin & Boettger, Ames

Mary Pat Gunderson, Attorney, Des Moines

Andrew Kahl, Assistant United States Attorney, US Attorney’s Office, Southern District of Iowa, Des Moines

Mitchell Kunert, Attorney, Nyemaster Good, P.C., Des Moines

Christine Lebron-Dykeman, Attorney, McKee, Voorhees & Sease, PLC, Des Moines

Kellyann Lekar, District Court Judge, First Judicial District, Waterloo

Lana Luhring, Attorney, Lair and Luhring Law Office, Center Point

Christopher McDonald, Court of Appeals Judge, Iowa Court of Appeals, Des Moines

Craig Nierman, Attorney, Phelan, Tucker, Mullen, Walker, Tucker & Gelman, LLP, Iowa City

Dustria Relph, District Court Judge, Fifth Judicial District, Corydon

Allan Richards, Attorney, Richards Law Firm, Tama

Anjela Shutts, Attorney, Whitfield & Eddy, P.L.C., Des Moines

Abbe Stensland, Chief Risk Officer and General Counsel, Central State Bank, Lisbon

Patrick Tott, District Court Judge, Third Judicial District, Sioux City

Molly Weber, Assistant Attorney General, Iowa Attorney General’s Office, Adel

Lisa Williams, Assistant United States Attorney, US Attorney’s Office, Northern District of Iowa, Iowa City