Interviews for Supreme Court justice applicants to begin

By: - January 8, 2020 4:22 pm

The Iowa Judicial Building. (Photo courtesy of Iowa Judicial Branch)

The State Judicial Nominating Commission is preparing to interview applicants and help select who will be the next justice on the Iowa Supreme Court — a process that is being closely watched for its potential to influence the court’s future rulings on controversial issues like abortion and collective bargaining. 

Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Cady died unexpectedly of a heart attack in November, leaving behind a vacant seat on the state’s highest court.

Groups across the state are closely watching the nomination process after a new law passed in 2019 that gave Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds more control over who is on the nominating commission. The commission interviews applicants and selects three nominees. Reynolds reviews the choices and selects the next Iowa Supreme Court justice.

Connie Ryan, the chairperson for Justice Not Politics, an advocacy group that pushes for independent courts, said the organization is concerned about the impact of the legislation that passed in 2019.

She said the group hopes both the commission and Reynolds pick the most qualified candidate, rather than a choice that fits with their political leanings.

“It is critical that the nominating process remain neutral and that our courts continue to be fair and impartial,” Ryan said. “Every eligible candidate must be considered equally without partisan influence.”

Chuck Hurley of The Family Leader, a religious conservative advocacy group, said the group supports the new law. He said the previous makeup of the nominating commission, which gave licensed lawyers more choices in appointments, ensured a liberal majority on the Iowa Supreme Court.

He pointed to a ruling in July 2018 where the Iowa Supreme Court struck down the 72-hour abortion waiting period as a moment of “activism and overreach.”

“Thanks to the much-needed reform of our nomination process, Iowans should be able to look forward to judges who better represent Iowans and our values, rather than merely the viewpoint of a small group of attorneys,” Hurley said.

The 17-person commission will hear from 12 applicants during interviews on Thursday. The applicants mostly work as practicing attorneys or judges across the state. Five of the applicants are women and Romonda Belcher is the only African-American applicant. 

A majority of the applicants list associations with Christian organizations, either through volunteer work or public speeches.

How to watch

Interviews start at 9 a.m. on Thursday at the Iowa Supreme Court Courtroom in the Judicial Branch Building. A livestream of the interviews is available on YouTube. Full details about applicants and their interview times are available on the Iowa Judicial Branch website.

Brief profiles of applicants

Applicants are listed in the order of their interviews.

Craig Nierman

  • Age: 52
  • Home: Outside Iowa City
  • Occupation: Attorney at Phelan Tucker Law LLP in Iowa City since 2017
  • Law degree: University of Iowa, 1999

Lisa Reel Schmidt

  • Age: 59
  • Home: Des Moines
  • Occupation: Assistant Attorney General at the Iowa Attorney General’s Office in Des Moines since 2015
  • Law degree: Drake University, 1985

Theresa Wilson

  • Age: 46
  • Home: Des Moines
  • Occupation: Assistant Apellate Defender at the Office of the State Appellate Defender since 2001
  • Law degree: Drake University, 1998

Dana Oxley

  • Age: 52
  • Home: Swisher
  • Occupation: Attorney at Shuttleworth & Ingersoll, PLC in Cedar Rapids since 2011
  • Law degree: University of Iowa, 1998

Mary Chicchelly

  • Age: 52
  • Home: Cedar Rapids
  • Occupation: Iowa District Court Judge in the Sixth Judicial District since 2013
  • Law degree: University of Iowa, 1992

Matthew McDermott

  • Age: 42
  • Home: West Des Moines
  • Occupation: Attorney at Belin McCormick, P.C. in Des Moines since 2003
  • Law degree: University of California, Berkeley, 2003

Alan Ostergren

  • Age: 47
  • Home: Muscatine
  • Occupation: Muscatine County Attorney since 2011
  • Law degree: Drake University, 1997

William Miller

  • Age: 42
  • Home: Des Moines
  • Occupation: Partner at Dorsey & Whitney LLP in Des Moines since 2006
  • Law degree: Drake University, 2002

Joel Barrows

  • Age: 59
  • Home: Bettendorf
  • Occupation: Iowa District Court Judge for the Seventh Judicial District since 2012
  • Law degree: Drake University, 1989

David May

  • Age: 48
  • Home: Polk City
  • Occupation: Judge on the Iowa Court of Appeals since 2019
  • Law degree: Drake University, 1998

Timothy Gartin

  • Age: 52
  • Home: Ames
  • Occupation: Attorney and partner with Hastings, Gartin & Boettger, LLP since 1996
  • Law degree: Northern Illinois University, 1996

Romonda Belcher

  • Age: 52
  • Home: Des Moines
  • Occupation: District Associate Judge for the Fifth Judicial District since 2010
  • Law degree: Drake University, 1995

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