Iowa Governor Fills State Supreme Court Vacancy

DES MOINES, Iowa (CN) – Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds appointed a Cedar Rapids lawyer to fill the vacancy on the Iowa Supreme Court created by the death of Chief Justice Mark Cady last November.

Dana Oxley, 52, who will soon be joining the state’s highest appellate court, is a lawyer in the Cedar Rapids, Iowa, firm of Shuttleworth & Ingersoll. Oxley has worked at the firm since 2011, where she primarily focuses on civil litigation and appellate work. Prior to that, Oxley was a clerk for 10 years for Eighth Circuit  Judge David R. Hansen, an appointee of President George H.W. Bush.

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

“Dana Oxley is an exceptional lawyer with a uniquely Iowa story,” Governor Reynolds said in a statement Tuesday. “She will be a valuable new addition to the Iowa Supreme Court. I look forward to watching her serve Iowans in this important role for years to come.”

Oxley has had a varied life and career. She grew up on a farm in southwest Iowa; worked as a credit union examiner; and was the business manager of her husband’s gutter business before going to law school at the University of Iowa College of Law. While a law school student, she gave birth to her two children.

Oxley is the third appointment Reynolds has made to the seven-member Iowa Supreme Court in the nearly four years she has served as governor. Two of those appointments were created by retirements, and the vacancy the governor filled Tuesday was created with the unexpected death of Cady of a heart attack at age 66.

Under Iowa’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, nine of whom are lawyers appointed by the governor and eight of whom are elected by Iowa lawyers. The commission forwards three names to the governor, who makes an appointment.

Reynolds, a Republican, will have yet another appointment to make in the coming weeks with the pending retirement of Acting Chief Justice David Wiggins. Reynolds’ appointees will make up a majority of the state’s top appellate court, which has two members who were appointed by a previous Republican governor, and one member who was appointed by a Democratic governor.

The Iowa Supreme Court had a reputation for liberal rulings in recent years, including on juvenile sentencing and criminal defendants’ rights. Most notable was the court’s 2009 decision in Varnum v. Brien, written by the late Justice Cady, which legalized same-sex marriage in Iowa based on the equal protection clause of the Iowa Constitution.

Three justices who joined the Varnum decision were defeated in retention elections the following year. With Cady’s death and the retirement of Wiggins and another justice in 2018, just one justice who was among the seven who joined the Varnum decision 10 years ago will be left on the court.

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