Iowa voters voted not to retain the three sitting supreme court justices that were on the ballot all of whom voted with the majority that the Iowa Constitution protected the rights of gays to marry. Governor Terry Branstadt, who had appointed the first women to the Iowa Supreme Court, chose three names from a nominating commission list of nine that included only one woman. The woman was the youngest member on the list, was a law professor, is African-American, and only just was admitted to the Iowa bar.
Here’s a op/ed piece I sent to the Des Moines Register which was not published. Am hoping a letter to the editor will get in.
Iowa: A Leader for Women’s Equality, Don’t go Backwards
In 1869, 51 years before women won the right to vote in national elections, Mitchell County Iowa voters elected Julia C. Addington Superintendent of Schools, the first woman elected to public office in the United States. That same year, Iowa bar examiners admitted to the first woman to the bar in the United States, Belle Babb Mansfield, a 23-year-old from Mt. Pleasant Iowa.
In 1923, Ohio voters elected the first woman to serve on a state supreme court, Florence Allen. Not until 1959 did the next state, Hawaii, select a woman to serve. Iowa joined the ranks in 1986 when Governor Branstad appointed Linda Neuman. The last state to have a woman on its state supreme court was South Dakota in 2002, but two states have gone backwards, Indiana and Idaho. Several states, including Minnesota, have had a majority of women judges on their state supreme courts. Women make up 31% of state supreme court justices overall and women are chief justices in 18 states.
We can be lulled into the assumption of steady and incremental progress as women make up nearly one third of the legal profession and half of all law school graduates. But these numbers do not automatically ensure either proportionate representation on the bench nor steady improvements. Fifteen per cent of President Carter’s appointments to the federal bench were women, but President Reagan appointed only 7 percent; the fanfare over the first woman on the U.S. Supreme Court concealed this retreat. Similarly, more than 29% of President Clinton’s appointments were women compared to a little more than 22% for President Bush who followed him. Without continuous vigilance and pressure, we can easily lose the gains we have won.
The Judicial Nominating Commission has now chosen its nine candidates for three judicial vacancies and only one woman made the list. Nearly forty years after women graduated from law school in significant numbers and with women making up more than half of the population of the state of Iowa, is Iowa really going to return to an all-male bench hearing the state’s most important cases? Is there really only one woman lawyer in all of Iowa qualified to serve on the Supreme Court? Governor Branstad appointed the first woman to the Iowa Supreme Court in 1986. Let’s go forward toward greater equality, not backwards.
Sally J. Kenney is the Newcomb College Endowed Chair and Executive Director of the Newcomb College Institute of Tulane University. She is a native of Des Moines, a University of Iowa graduate, and a former faculty member of the University of Iowa Political Science Department. She is a co-founder of the Infinity Project and completing a book on gender and judging.
Sally J. Kenney
Professor of Political Science
Newcomb College Endowed Chair
Executive Director, Newcomb College Institute
#43 Newcomb Place
New Orleans, Louisiana 70118