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.

8 comments
  1. My research says that Thomas Bower was appointed to the Court of Appeals in 2011.
    Also that he was a member of the court in 2015 which approved telemed abortions (PP/Heartland vs Iowa Board of Medicine) I haven’t been able to determine his opinion on that ruling.

    1. You are right, he was elected Chief Judge in 2019. He was appointed in 2012, so he is a Branstad appointee, so I will correct. Are you sure about the Planned Parenthood v. Iowa Board of Medicine case? Generally Iowa Court of Appeals handles cases that the Iowa Supreme Court doesn’t take. It’s not often you see both courts involved in a case.

  2. The Supreme Court justices up for renewal are solid conservatives. esp. Mansfield, who is a superb writer as well. Of the appeals court justices, I worked with Judge Bower for years, wrote an endorsement letter for him prior to his appointment, and knew him to be a man of integrity and principle. I haven’t closely followed his rulings since, but would have no reason to vote against him now.

  3. Correct me if I’m wrong, but it looks like Huppert and Bower ruled in favor of abortion “rights”.

  4. I got this information about Bower from the Iowa Right to Life website. Says he was on the court, but does this mean he voted in favor of telemed abortion? That is why I asked.

    He was on the appellate court when they
    allowed telemed abortion in 2015 in PP of the
    Heartland vs. the Iowa Board of Medicine. The Iowa
    Board of Medicine had ruled in 2013 that a physician
    had to be present to administer the abortion pill RU486 and had to provide a physical exam of the
    patient.

    And this is the link to an AP story about Huppert

    https://apnews.com/article/f0130851a91c4c2ab561391684862e15

    1. Not as familiar with the appellate ruling, but both Mansfield and Waterman joined the unanimous opinion on the Iowa Supreme Court that ruled against the Iowa Board of Medicine. I think ultimately the problem with the Iowa Board of Medicine’s ruling was that they allowed other procedures that carried as much, if not more, risk to the patient. (Obviously, we know that with telemed abortion there is a 100 percent chance the unborn “patient” will be put at risk.) The ruling if I recall correctly was not a ruling in favor of telemed abortion, but an opinion that the Iowa Board of Medicine’s ruling was arbitrary and capricious. I would have to go back and read it to be certain. I don’t agree with that, but that’s the thing with originalists, they are not always going to rule the way we would like.

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