Iowa Supreme Court Elects New Chief Justice

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DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — The Iowa Supreme Court elected Justice Susan Christensen as its next chief justice on Monday, making her only the second woman to rise to chief of the seven-member court.

Appointed by Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds in 2018, Christensen is part of a new more conservatively constituted court. Reynolds has named three justices to the court since becoming governor and will name a fourth after acting Chief Justice David Wiggins retires next month.

Wiggins, an appointee of Democratic Gov. Tom Vilsack, became acting chief after the unexpected death of Chief Justice Mark Cady in November from a heart attack. Cady had chosen Wiggins to take the post if he were to become incapacitated. Wiggins announced last month his plans to retire March 13.

“As chief justice, I will maintain my passion for child welfare and juvenile justice and do my best to lead Iowa’s judiciary in a manner which provides all 99 counties with fair and impartial justice,” Christensen said in a statement.

The chief justice writes opinions, presides over oral arguments and court conferences, sets the court’s oral argument schedule and delivers the state of the judiciary address to the legislature each January.

As administrative head of the Iowa Judicial Branch, the chief justice also works with the state court administrator to manage the judicial branch, which has 334 judicial officers and more than 1,700 employees.

Marsha Ternus was the first woman elected chief justice. She served on the court from 1993 to 2010 and was chief from 2006 to 2010.

Christensen was a lawyer before becoming a district court judge. She is married with five children and five grandchildren. Her father, Jerry Larson, was a justice on the Iowa Supreme Court for 30 years until his retirement in 2008.

In addition to Christensen, Reynolds has named former Iowa Court of Appeals Judge Christopher McDonald and Cedar Rapids attorney Dana Oxley to the supreme court.

Oxley began work on the court on Monday, allowing for the full court to hold an election to name a permanent chief justice, court spokesman Steve Davis said.

Wiggins' departure gives Reynolds a fourth appointment to the court, a significant influence for a governor in office for 2 1/2 years. Former Democratic Gov. Tom Vilsack named five justices from 1999 to 2007.

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