Iowa Supreme Court Building Photo credit: Ctjf83 via Wikimedia Commons (CC-By-SA 3.0)

I’ve had several people ask me my thoughts about the judicial retention elections on the back of the ballot, and I wanted to share my approach this year.

The Iowa Secretary of State’s office has a list of judges on the ballot this year that I would encourage you to check out. Everyone in the state will vote on Iowa Supreme Court justices and Iowa Court of Appeals judges, but the district court judges and associate judges on the ballot depends on where you live.

There is no useful resource for finding a summary of a judge’s record that is helpful for voters. Most do not have time to do tons of research. Iowa Bar Association reviews, in my opinion, are worthless. In the past, I would focus on the judges I knew about who had significant rulings that I disagreed with, and I would vote no on their retention.

This year there was no one on that list.

I was familiar with the four Iowa Supreme Court justices for retention. 

  • Chief Justice Susan Kay Christensen is a Reynolds appointee.
  • Justice Edward Mansfield – He was appointed in 2009 by Gov. Chet Culver (after the Varnum ruling) to the Iowa Court of Appeals and then Gov. Terry Branstad appointed him to the Supreme Court. Still, we can consider this as Iowa’s judicial nomination commission process biting him in the back because Mansfield is an originalist. He was also on President Donald Trump’s original list of potential Supreme Court nominees. 
  • Justice Christopher McDonald is a Reynolds appointee. 
  • Justice Thomas Waterman – He was appointed to the Supreme Court by Governor Branstad in 2011. I believe he is an originalist. Both he and Mansfield were the two justices who wrote dissenting opinions when the court majority struck down Iowa’s 72-hour waiting period for abortions. 

Iowa practically has a brand new Supreme Court. I voted yes on all four justices up for retention. The only justice that I would vote no for retention if he came up is Justice Brent Appel. 

Iowa Court of Appeals Judges up for retention are:

  • Chief Judge Thomas Bower is a Branstad appointee (in 2012).
  • Judge David May is a Reynolds appointee.
  • Judge Julie Schumacher is a Reynolds appointee.
  • Judge Sharon Soorholtz-Greer is a Reynolds appointee.

I voted yes for retention because they are new, and, frankly, I don’t have any reason to vote no. I know the make-up of the judicial nominating commissions have vastly improved since 2010, and there have been some changes (albeit small changes) to the process. That’s not to say every single judge Reynolds appoints will be spectacular because she’s still bound to choose from the nominees the commissions send to her. 

My approach to district court judges was to look at who appointed them. You can read their bios on the district court page by selecting the judicial district you live in and then select “judges and magistrates.” Most of the district court judges on my ballot were appointed by Reynolds, so I voted yes. There were three judges I voted no on – one was a Vilsack appointee, one was a Culver appointee, and one was one of Branstad’s earlier appointments (before his comeback). 

Anyway, that’s my approach. I hope you find it helpful. If you have information about a particular judge, please leave a comment.

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