Supreme Court of Iowa

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Supreme Court of Iowa
Iowa Supreme Court.jpg
Supreme Court building
CountryIowa Iowa, United States United States
LocationDes Moines, Iowa
Composition methodMissouri Plan
Authorized byIowa Constitution
Decisions are appealed toSupreme Court of the United States
WebsiteOfficial website
Chief Justice
CurrentlyMark Cady
SinceJanuary 11, 2011
Lead position endsDecember 31, 2024
Jurist term endsDecember 31, 2024

The Supreme Court of Iowa is the highest court in the U.S. state of Iowa. As constitutional head of the Iowa Judicial Branch, the Court is composed of a Chief Justice and six Associate Justices.

The Court holds its regular sessions in Des Moines in the Iowa Judicial Branch Building located at 1111 East Court Avenue on the state Capitol grounds just south of the Iowa State Capitol.


In 1846, Iowa became the 29th state to join the United States. Following the constitution of the Federal government, the powers of the government in Iowa were divided into the legislative branch, the executive branch, and the judicial branch. In the judicial branch, the Iowa General Assembly divided the state into four judicial districts, and Supreme Court justices were to serve six year terms, while district judges were elected for five year terms. The Constitution of Iowa of 1857 increased the judicial districts from four to 11, and allowed the General Assembly to reorganize districts after 1860 and every four years thereafter.[1]


The Supreme Court of Iowa is an appellate court. An appellate court reviews decisions of trial courts in which appeals have been allowed. An appellate court does not preside over trials. Appellate court hearings do not involve witnesses, juries, new evidence, or court reporters. Instead, an appellate court reviews the written record of the trial court to determine whether any significant legal errors occurred. The Rules of Appellate Procedure list the requirements for filing an appeal.

The seven-member Supreme Court of Iowa has many important responsibilities.[2]

  • The Court is the "court of last resort" or the highest court in the Iowa state court system. Its opinions are binding on all other Iowa state courts.
  • The Iowa Supreme Court has the sole power to admit persons to practice as attorneys in the courts of Iowa, to prescribe rules to supervise attorney conduct, and to discipline attorneys.
  • The Court is responsible for promulgating rules of procedure and practice used throughout the state courts.
  • The Supreme Court has supervisory and administrative control over the judicial branch and over all judicial officers and court employees.


Justices are appointed by the governor from a list of nominees submitted by the State Judicial Nominating Commission. A justice serves an initial term of office that is one year after appointment and until January 1 following the next judicial retention election after expiration of such year.[3] The regular term of office of justices retained at election is eight years. A justice must retire upon reaching the age of 72. The justices elect the chief justice.

Name Appointed/Elected Term expires Appointing Governor Governor's Party Affiliation
Chief Justice Mark Cady 1998 December 31, 2024 Terry Branstad Republican
David Wiggins 2003 December 31, 2020 Tom Vilsack Democratic
Daryl Hecht 2006 December 31, 2024 Tom Vilsack Democratic
Brent R. Appel 2006 December 31, 2024 Tom Vilsack Democratic
Edward Mansfield February 2011 December 31, 2020 Terry Branstad Republican
Thomas D. Waterman February 2011 December 31, 2020 Terry Branstad Republican
Susan Christensen 2018 December 31, 2020 Kim Reynolds Republican

Mark Cady is the current Chief Justice on the Court.

The Court had three vacancies following the defeat of three justices in the November 2, 2010, retention election.[3] Those vacancies were filled in February 2011 by the appointments of Edward Mansfield, Thomas D. Waterman, and Bruce Zager. In March 2011, the Court voted for Justice Cady to continue as Chief Justice.[4]

Notable decisions[edit]

The first decision by the Iowa Supreme Court freed a black slave named Ralph in 1858. The U.S. Supreme Court could have followed the Iowa reasoning in the Dred Scott decision, but did not.[5]

Clark v. The Board of Directors[edit]

In 1868, the Iowa Supreme Court decided Clark v. Board of School Directors,[6] ruling that racially segregated "separate but equal" schools had no place in Iowa, 86 years before the U.S. Supreme Court reached the same decision.[7]

Arabella A. Mansfield[edit]

In 1869, Iowa became the first state in the union to admit women to the practice of law, with the Court ruling that women may not be denied the right to practice law in Iowa and admitting Arabella A. Mansfield to the practice of law.[8]

Coger v. The North Western Union Packet Co.[edit]

The Court heard Coger v. The North Western Union Packet Co.[9] in 1873, ruling against racial discrimination in public accommodations 91 years before the U.S. Supreme Court reached the same decision.[8]

Varnum v. Brien[edit]

On April 3, 2009, in Varnum v. Brien,[10] the Iowa Supreme Court unanimously struck down a statutory same-sex marriage ban as unconstitutional, joining the highest judicial bodies of Massachusetts, Connecticut, California, and Hawaii as the fifth court to rule for the right of same-sex marriage under the state constitution.[11] At the next judicial retention election in 2010, voters removed all three justices facing a retention vote.[12] It was the first time any Iowa Supreme Court justice had been removed by voters.[12] Chief Justice Marsha Ternus, Justice Michael Streit, and Justice David L. Baker each received support from 45% or less of voters.[12]

Planned Parenthood v. Reynolds[edit]

The Court heard arguments in a lawsuit brought against the state of Iowa and the Iowa Board of Medicine by Planned Parenthood and Dr. Jill Meadows regarding a 72-hour waiting period to receive an abortion enacted by the state legislature and signed into law by Governor Terry Branstad in 2017. The Court decided in a 5-2 majority opinion, authored by Chief Justice Mark Cady, that the waiting period violates the due process and equal protection clauses of the Iowa Constitution because its restrictions "are not narrowly tailored to serve a compelling interest of the state." Justice Cady argued that the state can inform women about abortion, including providing information about adoption, but that a 72-hour waiting period does not serve this interest sufficiently narrowly and imposes an undue burden on Iowan women.[13]

Supporters of Iowa's fetal heartbeat bill, currently being challenged in court, that would effectively bar abortion after 12 weeks, have expressed concern that this ruling increases the odds that the fetal heartbeat bill will be successfully challenged and overturned at the Supreme Court of Iowa as unconstitutional under the state constitution, making a Supreme Court of the United States challenge much less likely.[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Iowa Supreme Court: History Archived 2010-05-28 at the Wayback Machine.
  2. ^ National Center for State Courts. Iowa Judicial Branch. Archived 2009-06-17 at the Wayback Machine.
  3. ^ a b Schulte, Grant (January 14, 2011). "High court's four justices get back to hearing cases". The Des Moines Register. Retrieved January 15, 2011.[permanent dead link]
  4. ^ Krogstad, Jens (March 31, 2011). "Cady will continue as chief justice". The Des Moines Register. Retrieved April 8, 2011.[permanent dead link]
  5. ^
  6. ^ 24 Iowa 266 (1868)
  7. ^ Longden, Tom. "Alexander G. Clark". Data Central. Des Moines Register. Retrieved February 3, 2015.
  8. ^ a b "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2006-05-05. Retrieved 2010-07-26. Iowa Courts History Civil Rights
  9. ^ 37 Iowa 145 (1873)
  10. ^ WL 874044 (Iowa 2009)
  11. ^ Eckhoff, Jeff; Schulte, Grant (April 3, 2009). "Unanimous ruling: Iowa marriage no longer limited to one man, one woman". The Des Moines Register. Archived from the original on June 29, 2012. Retrieved January 14, 2011.
  12. ^ a b c Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr. (3 November 2010). "Ouster of Iowa Judges Sends Signal to Bench". The New York Times. p. A1. Retrieved 11 October 2016.
  13. ^ a b Leys, Tony; Gruber-Miller, Stephen (29 June 2018). "Iowa Supreme Court rejects law requiring a 72 hour abortion waiting period". Des Moines Register. Retrieved 29 June 2018.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 41°35′18″N 93°36′04″W / 41.588273°N 93.601193°W / 41.588273; -93.601193