Supreme Court of Iowa

Last updated
Supreme Court of Iowa
Iowa Supreme Court.jpg
Iowa Judicial Branch Building
Location Des Moines, Iowa
Composition method Missouri Plan
Authorized by Iowa Constitution
Appeals to Supreme Court of the United States
Number of positions7
Website Official website
Chief Justice
Currently Mark 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.

In the United States, a state supreme court is the ultimate judicial tribunal in the court system of a particular state. On matters of state law, the decisions of a state supreme court are considered final and binding on state and even United States federal courts.

U.S. state constituent political entity of the United States

In the United States, a state is a constituent political entity, of which there are currently 50. Bound together in a political union, each state holds governmental jurisdiction over a separate and defined geographic territory and shares its sovereignty with the federal government. Due to this shared sovereignty, Americans are citizens both of the federal republic and of the state in which they reside. State citizenship and residency are flexible, and no government approval is required to move between states, except for persons restricted by certain types of court orders.

Iowa U.S. state in the United States

Iowa is a state in the Midwestern United States, bordered by the Mississippi River to the east and the Missouri River and Big Sioux River to the west. It is bordered by six states: Wisconsin to the northeast, Illinois to the east, Missouri to the south, Nebraska to the west, South Dakota to the northwest, and Minnesota to the north.


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.

Des Moines, Iowa Capital of Iowa

Des Moines is the capital and the most populous city in the U.S. state of Iowa. It is also the county seat of Polk County. A small part of the city extends into Warren County. It was incorporated on September 22, 1851, as Fort Des Moines, which was shortened to "Des Moines" in 1857. It is on and named after the Des Moines River, which likely was adapted from the early French name, Rivière des Moines, meaning "River of the Monks". The city's population was 216,853 as of the 2018 population estimate. The five-county metropolitan area is ranked 89th in terms of population in the United States with 655,409 residents according to the 2018 estimate by the United States Census Bureau, and is the largest metropolitan area fully located within the state. A portion of the larger Omaha, Nebraska metropolitan area extends into three counties of southwest Iowa.

Iowa State Capitol United States historic place

The Iowa State Capitol, commonly called the Iowa Statehouse, is in Iowa's capital city, Des Moines. As the seat of the Iowa General Assembly, the building houses the Iowa Senate, Iowa House of Representatives, the Office of the Governor, and the Offices of the Attorney General, Auditor, Treasurer, and Secretary of State. The building also includes a chamber for the Iowa Supreme Court, although court activities usually take place in the neighboring Iowa Supreme Court building. The building was constructed between 1871 and 1886, and is the only five-domed capitol in the country.


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]

United States Federal republic in North America

The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States or America, is a country comprising 50 states, a federal district, five major self-governing territories, and various possessions. At 3.8 million square miles, the United States is the world's third or fourth largest country by total area and is slightly smaller than the entire continent of Europe. With a population of over 327 million people, the U.S. is the third most populous country. The capital is Washington, D.C., and the most populous city is New York City. Most of the country is located contiguously in North America between Canada and Mexico.

Iowa General Assembly legislature of the US state of Iowa

The Iowa General Assembly (IGA) is the legislative branch of the state government of Iowa. Like the federal United States Congress, the General Assembly is a bicameral body, composed of the upper house Iowa Senate and the lower Iowa House of Representatives respectively. The Senate consists of four year terms and the House consists of two year terms. The General Assembly convenes within the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines.


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.

An appellate court, commonly called an appeals court, court of appeals, appeal court, court of second instance or second instance court, is any court of law that is empowered to hear an appeal of a trial court or other lower tribunal. In most jurisdictions, the court system is divided into at least three levels: the trial court, which initially hears cases and reviews evidence and testimony to determine the facts of the case; at least one intermediate appellate court; and a supreme court which primarily reviews the decisions of the intermediate courts. A jurisdiction's supreme court is that jurisdiction's highest appellate court. Appellate courts nationwide can operate under varying rules.

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


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.

The Missouri Plan is a method for the selection of judges. It originated in Missouri in 1940 and has been adopted by several states of the United States. Similar methods are used in some other countries.

A judicial retention election is a periodic process in some jurisdictions whereby a judge is subject to a referendum held at the same time as a general election. The judge is removed from office if a majority of votes are cast against retention.

NameAppointed/ElectedTerm expiresAppointing GovernorGovernor's Party Affiliation
Chief Justice Mark Cady 1998December 31, 2024 Terry Branstad Republican
David Wiggins 2003December 31, 2020 Tom Vilsack Democratic
Christopher McDonald February 20, 2019December 31, 2020 Kim Reynolds Republican
Brent R. Appel 2006December 31, 2024 Tom Vilsack Democratic
Edward Mansfield February 2011December 31, 2020 Terry Branstad Republican
Thomas D. Waterman February 2011December 31, 2020 Terry Branstad Republican
Susan Christensen September 4, 2018December 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

Clark v. The Board of Directors

In 1868, the Iowa Supreme Court decided Clark v. Board of School Directors , [5] 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. [6]

Arabella A. Mansfield

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. [7]

Coger v. The North Western Union Packet Co.

The Court heard Coger v. The North Western Union Packet Co. [8] in 1873, ruling against racial discrimination in public accommodations 91 years before the U.S. Supreme Court reached the same decision. [7]

Varnum v. Brien

On April 3, 2009, in Varnum v. Brien , [9] 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. [10] At the next judicial retention election in 2010, voters removed all three justices facing a retention vote. [11] It was the first time any Iowa Supreme Court justice had been removed by voters. [11] Chief Justice Marsha Ternus, Justice Michael Streit, and Justice David L. Baker each received support from 45% or less of voters. [11]

Planned Parenthood v. Reynolds

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. [12]

See also

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Same-sex marriage has been legally recognized in the U.S state of Iowa since a decision of the Iowa Supreme Court on April 3, 2009. Marriage licenses became available to same-sex couples on April 27.

<i>Varnum v. Brien</i>

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Marsha K. Ternus is an American lawyer and served as a Justice of the Iowa Supreme Court from September 7, 1993 to December 31, 2010, appointed from Polk County, Iowa As a Justice, Ternus was part of the unanimous Iowa Supreme Court ruling legally recognizing same-sex marriage in Iowa, and was removed from office after a judicial retention election, following campaigning by groups opposed to same-sex marriage including the National Organization for Marriage. In 2012, Ternus received a Profile in Courage Award from the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, along with fellow Justices David L. Baker and Michael Streit.


  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. 1 2 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. 24 Iowa 266 (1868)
  6. Longden, Tom. "Alexander G. Clark". Data Central. Des Moines Register. Retrieved February 3, 2015.
  7. 1 2 "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2006-05-05. Retrieved 2010-07-26.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link) Iowa Courts History Civil Rights
  8. 37 Iowa 145 (1873)
  9. WL 874044 (Iowa 2009)
  10. 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.
  11. 1 2 3 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.
  12. 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.

Coordinates: 41°35′18″N93°36′04″W / 41.588273°N 93.601193°W / 41.588273; -93.601193