GOP Governor Appoints Lawyer to Iowa Supreme Court

The Iowa Judicial Branch building in Des Moines, which houses the Iowa Supreme Court. (Photo via Ctjf83/Wikipedia)

DES MOINES, Iowa (CN) – Governor Kim Reynolds appointed a Des Moines lawyer to a vacancy on the Iowa Supreme Court Friday, her fourth appointment to the seven-member court in the past two years as a result of retirements and deaths of members of the state’s top appellate court.

“Matt is a talented, smart, and astute lawyer with deep Iowa roots,” the Republican governor said of Matthew McDermott in a statement released Friday. “His commitment to the rule of law and passion for service will now benefit all Iowans as he joins the Iowa Supreme Court.”

McDermott, 42, is an attorney and shareholder in the Des Moines firm of Belin McCormick. He is a graduate of the University of Iowa where he earned a bachelor’s degree in economics and political science, and the University of California, Berkley, School of Law, where he was executive editor of the California Law Review. His appointment to the state’s highest court is his first judicial position.

“I am deeply honored by this appointment, and grateful for the confidence the governor has shown in me,” McDermott said in the statement from the governor’s office. “I will work every day to be a faithful servant of the Constitution and the laws of this great state, and to carry out the oath to ‘administer justice according to the law, equally’ to everyone.”

Under the state’s judicial appointment process, applicants for vacancies on the Iowa Supreme Court and Court of Appeals are interviewed by a 17-member judicial nominating commission, all lawyers, nine of whom are appointed by the governor and eight of whom are elected by fellow lawyers. The commission forwards three names to the governor, who makes an appointment.

Iowa’s highest court has seen extraordinary turnover in the past decade, beginning in 2010 when three justices were not retained for new terms by voters following the court’s controversial 2009 decision that legalized same-sex marriage.

Only one member of the court who participated in that case – Justice Brent Appel – is still on the court today.

Since 2010, two justices have died, and two have retired.

With the appointment of McDermott, the court now has six members who spent much, if not all, of their careers in large Iowa law firms. Two members of the Supreme Court previously served as judges on the state Court of Appeals. Chief Justice Susan Christensen was in private practice in rural Iowa, and later as a district court judge, before being appointed to the Supreme Court.

Besides changes in personnel, the newly constituted court has already called into question past decisions of the court, which had a reputation for liberal rulings in recent years, including on juvenile sentencing. Two new members of the court have said they would vote to overturn recent decisions of the Iowa Supreme Court’s prohibiting mandatory minimum criminal sentences for juvenile offenders.

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