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UI prof not among 3 new Supreme Court justices

BY LUKE VOELZ | FEBRUARY 24, 2011 7:20 AM

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The Iowa Supreme Court will welcome three new justices in the next 30 days and become a bench of nine white males.

Gov. Terry Branstad appointed Iowa District Court Judge Bruce Zager, Iowa Court of Appeals Judge Edward Mansfield, and Pleasant Valley attorney Thomas Waterman to the court on Wednesday.

The appointees will fill the seats of three justices voted off the bench in a controversial retention election in November after they had been part of a unanimous decision legalizing gay marriage in Iowa.

University of Iowa law Professor Angela Onwuachi-Willig was the sole female candidate among nine nominees.

“I believe Gov. Branstad picked who he thought would be the best people to serve on the court,” said Onwuachi-Willig, whose areas of study include family law, employment discrimination, and feminist legal theory.

Prior to her ousting in the November 2010 election, Chief Justice Marsha Ternus was the court’s only woman.

Onwuachi-Willig received an American studies degree from Grinnell College and a law degree from the University of Michigan. She joined the University of Iowa College of Law in 2006, where she currently teaches a Critical Race Theory class.

“I was sorry to see [Professor Onwuachi] not appointed because she would have been a good justice — she’s intelligent, sensitive, and thoughtful,” said UI clinical law Professor Lois Cox.

UI law Professor Sheldon Kurtz agreed.

“I think she would have made a great justice,” Kurtz said. “But I’m glad she’s still my colleague.”

Cox congratulated the new justices, but called out the bench’s lack of diversity.

“I am absolutely not against the three people appointed — I believe they will make fine justices,” she said. “But I think it’s a shame that we have a state Supreme Court in which there is no gender and ethnic diversity. I think women and people of color bring useful perspectives to the court.”

Kurtz agreed diversity is important, but said Branstad fulfilled his duty of selecting the most qualified candidates.

“I think it’s always good for courts to have representatives from all groups, but that’s not the primary goal,” Kurtz said. “The goal of the governor is to nominate those persons he believes to be the best candidates for the court, and I know he has appointed the best people.”

Onwuachi-Willig said she did not wish to comment on the makeup of the Iowa Supreme Court.

Branstad, in a release, said his decisions were based on the candidates’ qualifications and did not mention race or gender.

“My goal was to choose Supreme Court justices, from the available slate of candidates, who are most likely to faithfully interpret the laws and Constitution, and respect the separation of powers,” Branstad said.


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