Government

Christopher McDonald sworn in as first minority justice on Iowa Supreme Court

Born in Thailand, he lived around the world as 'Army brat'

Iowa Supreme Court Justice Christopher McDonald (center) is robed by his wife, Stacey, and their children Aidan, Sydney and Dmitri, during his Friday investiture ceremony at the Judicial Branch Building in Des Moines. (Matthew Putney/Freelance)
Iowa Supreme Court Justice Christopher McDonald (center) is robed by his wife, Stacey, and their children Aidan, Sydney and Dmitri, during his Friday investiture ceremony at the Judicial Branch Building in Des Moines. (Matthew Putney/Freelance)
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By Erin Murphy, Gazette-Lee Des Moines Bureau

DES MOINES — The transfer of authority on Iowa’s highest court was never more poignant.

Christopher McDonald, 43, was sworn in Friday as the newest Iowa Supreme Court justice during a ceremony at the state Judicial Building in Des Moines.

McDonald replaces former Justice Daryl Hecht, who died this week from skin cancer.

“We cannot help but remember at this time, as well with deepest gratitude and respect, all of the important and significant contributions that Justice Hecht gave to our court, to our state and beyond,” Chief Justice Mark Cady said during the ceremony. “But just as Justice Hecht knew, all of us who have served this court know what it means to do so and what work there is that lies ahead.

“So knowing this, Justice McDonald, we on this court could not be more pleased to have you join us. We see in you what others have seen, and we know Justice McDonald will continue to contribute in the same spirit and with the same courage as Justice Hecht and all others that have proceeded him.”

McDonald becomes the first minority to serve as a justice in the Iowa Supreme Court’s 182-year history.

McDonald, of Des Moines, was born in Bangkok, Thailand, and raised by a Vietnamese mother and Scotch-Irish father. He was an “Army brat” and lived his first 10 years on military bases around the world.

“I am truly honored and humbled to have the opportunity to continue to serve as a judge in the judicial branch and as a justice on your supreme court,” McDonald said. “Carrying out my service to you, I want you to know I approach this position with a great deal of both personal and institutional humility. It’s a humility borne out of my understanding of the limitations of my own legal vision and the constitutional limitations of the office.”

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McDonald graduated from Grand View University and earned his law degree from the University of Iowa. After graduation, he clerked for Judge David Hansen at the U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals and considers the retired jurist, a former federal judge in Iowa, his mentor.

McDonald has served on the Iowa Court of Appeals since 2013. Previously, he was a judge in Iowa’s 5th Judicial District, which covers central and south-central Iowa. Both of those appointments were made by then-Gov. Terry Branstad.

Gov. Kim Reynolds administered the oath of office to McDonald, her second appointment to the high court since she became governor in 2017.

Her previous selection, Justice Susan Christensen, last year became the court’s first female justice since 2010.

“On the bench, Judge McDonald has earned a reputation as a brilliant and thoughtful jurist, a hard worker and a good colleague,” Reynolds said when she announced her selection.

She said Iowans, during the vetting process, described McDonald as having incredible character, independence, competence and the right temperament for a judge.

l Comments: (563) 383-2492; erin.murphy@lee.net

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