Government

Iowa Supreme Court to get a woman

Panel forwards three candidates to governor

Alice Clapman of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Washington, D.C. argues the Planned Parenthood v. Reynolds case at the Iowa Supreme Court Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018, in Des Moines, Iowa.
Alice Clapman of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Washington, D.C. argues the Planned Parenthood v. Reynolds case at the Iowa Supreme Court Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018, in Des Moines, Iowa.

DES MOINES — After roughly seven years of being an all-male panel, the Iowa Supreme Court is about to get a female justice — but who?

Tuesday, after two days of interviews, the State Judicial Nominating Commission advanced three of 21 candidates for the position that will open after Justice Bruce Zager of Waterloo retires in September. All three candidates are women:

- Susan Christensen, a judge in the 4th Judicial District in Harlan;

- Terri Comb, a lawyer with Faegre Baker Daniels in West Des Moines;

- and Kellyann Lekar, a judge in the 1st Judicial District in Waterloo.

The 17-member commission did not provide an explanation of why it picked those applicants out of the 21 with which it conducted 25-minute apiece interviews. All the applicants also made written applications, which are available online at iowacourts.gov. Most of those seeking the position — about 70 percent — were women.

Gov. Kim Reynolds now has 30 days to pick one of the three to appoint. This will be the Republican governor’s first state Supreme Court appointment.

Unlike how appointments are made to, say, the U.S. Supreme Court, Iowa has a merit-selection process approved by voters in 1962 in a constitutional amendment. Merit selection is designed to emphasize professional qualifications and minimize partisan politics.

Voters regularly get a say whether to retain judges and justices — a power they used in 2010 to remove three justices who had ruled in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage. That vote removed the last woman to have served on the court.

Then-Gov. Terry Branstad appointed Zager in 2011 to fill one of the three vacancies. Zager announced his retirement plans in May. His judicial career spans 19 years, including 12 on the district court bench.

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A bill filed early this year in the Iowa Legislature that would have cut the salary of justices from $170,544 a year to $25,000 a year — the pay of a state legislator, considered part-time — failed to gain traction.

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