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DES MOINES — David May, a state appeals court judge from Polk City, is the newest Iowa Supreme Court justice, Gov. Kim Reynolds said Wednesday as she announced her fifth appointment to the seven-member court.
May replaces former Justice Brent Appel, who retired this year upon reaching the state-mandated state Supreme Court retirement age of 72. Appel was the court’s last remaining member appointed by a Democratic governor: Tom Vilsack in 2006. The other two members were appointed by then-Gov. Terry Branstad, a Republican.
May, 51, was a finalist for an Iowa Supreme Court vacancy in 2020. For the current vacancy, he was chosen from among three finalists.
“At every point in this decision, Judge May at the Iowa Court of Appeals stood out for his experience, his approach to interpretation, and his commitment to judicial restraint,” Reynolds said during a news conference.
A graduate of Drake University Law School, May has been serving on the Iowa Court of Appeals since 2019. Previously, he was a district judge in Central Iowa’s 5th Judicial District.
May said he is excited to begin his work on the Supreme Court.
“I know the work will involve new challenges, certainly a different kind of case mix,” he said. “But whether you’re at the district court or the Court of Appeals or the Supreme Court, the basic principles of judging remain the same: judges don’t exercise the powers of the executive and the legislature. We have a different job. Our job is to decide legal disputes. We call them cases. …
“And we decide those cases based on the law as it is written and consistent with our oath to support the Constitution of the United States (and) support the constitution of the State of Iowa.”
Five judges applied for the most recent Supreme Court vacancy. The state’s judicial nominating commission whittled that field down to three finalists, from which Reynolds made her appointment. Justices are paid over $180,000 a year.
The other finalists were Alan Heavens, a Northeast Iowa district court judge from Garnavillo; and William Miller, a lawyer with Dorsey & Whitney in Des Moines.
While introducing her latest Supreme Court appointment, Reynolds on multiple occasions praised May's judicial philosophy.
“He understands that in our system of government laws are made only by those who are directly accountable to the people, and that as a result judges should respect the democratic process whenever possible,” Reynolds said.
Reynolds recently asked the Iowa Supreme Court to overturn a 2018 ruling that created a state right for women to have access to abortion services.
With a different makeup than the one that made that 2018 ruling, the state Supreme Court overturned the 2018 ruling, which put into effect a 24-hour waiting period before a pregnant woman can have an abortion. Combined with a U.S. Supreme Court ruling a week later that eliminated the federal right to an abortion, the rulings cleared the way for more strict abortion restrictions in Iowa.
Currently, abortion is legal in Iowa until 20 weeks of pregnancy.
Reynolds also asked the Iowa Supreme Court to rehear the case in order to determine what kind of legal scrutiny the court will apply to future abortion restrictions. The court declined that request, sending the question first to a district court judge but one that likely is to return eventually to the Supreme Court.
Reynolds is running for re-election to another four-year term. The Democratic challenger in this fall’s election, Deidre DeJear, issued a statement Wednesday asserting that Reynolds’ appointment of May was politically motivated.
“Iowans deserve leadership that puts them first. This appointment to the Iowa Supreme Court is another effort of Kim Reynolds, in line with the (Republican Party) agenda, to pack the courts with justices who do not represent the whole of our great state,” DeJear said in the statement. “This trajectory is a great danger to our everyday freedoms. The rule of law should be considered with impartiality, not twisted for political gain.”
May’s appointment to the Supreme Court creates a vacancy on the Court of Appeals that Reynolds will now move to fill.
The Supreme Court’s next oral arguments are scheduled for mid-September, according to the court’s calendar.
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