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Reynolds: Qualifications Outweigh Diversity For State Supreme Court Pick

John Pemble/IPR
Governor Kim Reynolds is slated to fill an upcoming vacancy on the state's Supreme Court.

Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds says diversity alone will not be enough to win an upcoming vacancy on the state’s Supreme Court. Justice Bruce Zager is retiring on September 3, 2018 and Reynolds is slated to name his replacement. It could be an opportunity to diversify a judiciary overwhelmingly made up of white men.

Reynolds will soon have a chance to weigh in on the future of the state's highest court. Twenty-two applicants are vying for the seat, 15 of whom are women. The Judicial Nominating Committee is slated to interview the nominees on July 9th. The board will advance three names from that group for the governor to choose from. 

Speaking with reporters Thursday, Reynolds said qualifications for the job are her top concern.

"We want to make sure that they're adhering to the Constitution...look at the judicial philosophy, but most important I want to get the right person in there," Reynolds said.

While the winnowing of the field is largely up to the  committee, Reynolds could have the chance to name a justice that more closely reflects the state's demographics as a whole. Iowa's current Supreme Court justices are all white men.

While Reynolds said she values different approaches, she said diversity on the bench should be a secondary concern, not a goal in and of itself.

"Now I am out there every single day encouraging women to get involved, to run for office, to run for the C-suite, to run for local government," Reynolds said. “I'm challenging women to do that all the time. But I really do think we want to make sure that we've got the most qualified person."

Reynolds said in her own experience as a woman in the public sphere, she wouldn't want to be chosen to "fill a slot," but instead based on her qualifications.

Historically, Iowa’s highest court has only had two female justices, Justice Linda Neuman, who was appointed by Governor Terry Branstad in 1986, and Justice Marsha Ternus, appointed by Governor Branstad in 1993. Ternus went on to become the state's first female Chief Justice.

According to state numbers, since 1978 there have been six female nominees to the Iowa Supreme Court out of a pool of 367 total applicants.

Kate Payne was an Iowa City-based Reporter