Iowa's All-Male Supreme Court

Author:Gina M. Messamer
Position:J.D. Candidate, The University of Iowa College of Law, 2013
Pages:421-463
SUMMARY

Iowa is one of only three states without a female justice on its state court of last resort. This Note embraces increased judicial gender representation as a desirable goal and recognizes that Iowa’s current lack of gender representation is the result of a systemic failure of Iowa’s merit selection system. This Note examines Iowa’s history and how women move through the three steps in the... (see full summary)

 
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421
Iowa’s All-Male Supreme Court
Gina M. Messamer
ABSTRACT: Iowa is one of only three states without a female justice on its
state court of last resort. This Note embraces increased judicial gender
representation as a desirable goal and recognizes that Iowa’s current lack of
gender representation is the result of a systemic failure of Iowa’s merit
selection system. This Note examines Iowa’s history and how women move
through the three steps in the judicial pipeline—application, nomination,
and appointment. This Note then presents practical solutions to remove
barriers to the judicial selection process and hopefully remedy the gender
imbalance. By benchmarking Iowa’s gender diversity against other states,
improving state nominating commissioner training, surveying qualified
female lawyers, actively recruiting qualified female applicants, developing
the support of women’s advocacy groups, and clarifying selection criteria,
Iowa can ensure that women are included in the applicant pool and
evaluated by the same yardstick as men.
I. INTRODUCTION ...................................................................................... 423
II. BACKGROUND ........................................................................................ 425
A. HISTORY .......................................................................................... 426
1. Court of Appeals .................................................................... 426
2. Supreme Court ....................................................................... 428
3. Equality in the Courts Task Force Report ............................ 432
B. BENEFITS OF GENDER REPRESENTATION ............................................ 435
1. Increases Public Confidence in the Courts .......................... 436
2. Communicates that Women Are Equal ................................ 437
3. Increases Case Outcome Fairness ......................................... 438
III. THE CAUSE OF IOWAS LACK OF GENDER DIVERSITY ............................. 442
A. IOWAS APPELLATE SELECTION PROCESS ............................................ 442
B. JUDICIAL PIPELINE ............................................................................ 443
J.D. Candidate, The University of Iowa College of Law, 2013; M.A. Candidate, The
University of Iowa, 2013; B.A. & B.B.A., Texas Christian University, 2008. I would like to thank
Judge Doyle of the Iowa Court of Appeals for piquing my interest in Iowa’s judicial history.
422 IOWA LAW REVIEW [Vol. 98:421
1. Court of Appeals .................................................................... 443
2. Supreme Court ....................................................................... 445
C. HIERARCHICAL SYSTEM .................................................................... 445
D. QUALIFICATION DISPARITY ............................................................... 447
IV. RECOMMENDATIONS TO IMPROVE GENDER DIVERSITY ......................... 449
A. BENCHMARKING ............................................................................... 450
B. COMMISSIONER TRAINING ................................................................ 451
1. Implicit Bias Testing .............................................................. 451
2. Additional Training for Each Judicial Opening .................. 453
C. SURVEY OF WOMEN ........................................................................... 454
D. RECRUITMENT ................................................................................. 454
E. ADVOCACY BY WOMENS GROUPS ...................................................... 455
F. SELECTION CRITERIA ........................................................................ 456
V. CONCLUSION ......................................................................................... 458
2012] IOWA’S ALL-MALE SUPREME COURT 423
I. INTRODUCTION
In November 2010, voters chose not to retain three Iowa Supreme
Court justices.1 One of these justices was a woman—the only woman serving
on the court at the time.2 Faced with three vacancies on the court, the state
nominating commission submitted nine nominees to the governor for
potential appointment.3 Of those nine applicants, only one was a woman.4
The governor appointed three male nominees to fill the vacancies and,
while the candidates chosen by the governor were doubtlessly well-qualified,
the appointments left Iowa with an entirely male Supreme Court.5 With this
turn of events, Iowa became one of only three states without a female justice
on the state court of last resort.6 Unfortunately, this development was
unsurprising, in light of the fact that only two women in Iowa’s history have
reached the state’s highest court.7
Based on Iowa’s impressive early history of promoting women lawyers,
one would expect women to be represented on the Iowa Supreme Court. In
1869, Iowa became the first state to admit a woman to the bar, a very
progressive notion at the time.8 The next year, Iowa removed the words
“white male” from its statute controlling qualifications to practice law.9 The
University of Iowa College of Law graduated its first female student soon
1. Grant Schulte, Iowans Dismiss Three Justices, DES MOINES REG. (Nov. 3, 2010, 4:26 AM),
www.desmoinesregister.com/article/20101103/NEWS09/11030390/Iowans-dismiss-three-
justices?gcheck=1&nclick_check=1.
2. See infra Part II.A.2.
3. See infra Appendix A.
4. See infra Appendix A.
5. See infra Part II.A.2.
6. 2010 Representation of United States State Court Women Judges, NATL ASSN OF WOMEN
JUDGES, http://www.nawj.org/us_state_court_statistics_2010.asp (last updated May 2, 2010)
(citing THE AMERICAN BENCH: JUDGES OF THE NATION (Marie T. Finn et al. eds., 20th ed.
2010)).
7. See infra Part II.A.2.
8. RICHARD ACTON & PATRICIA NASSIF ACTON, TO GO FREE: A TREASURY OF IOWAS LEGAL
HERITAGE 132 (1995).
9. Id. A news article discussing the change noted: “The woman of Iowa soon can be a
lawyer, if she cannot be a voter.” Id. (quoting DAILY IOWA ST. REG., March 5, 1870). Iowa’s
position on women lawyers stood in stark contrast to the national tone. In 1873, the U.S.
Supreme Court affirmed the Illinois Supreme Court’s refusal to grant a woman a license to
practice law. In his concurring opinion, Justice Bradley commented:
The natural and proper timidity and delicacy which belongs to the female sex
evidently unfits it for many of the occupations of civil life. . . . The harmony, not to
say identity, of interests and views which belong, or should belong, to the family
institution is repugnant to the idea of a woman adopting a distinct and
independent career from that of her husband.
Bradwell v. Illinois, 83 U.S. 130, 141 (1872) (Bradley, J., concurring).

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