Iowa Supreme Court Acting Chief Justice Wiggins to retire
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Iowa Supreme Court Acting Chief Justice David Wiggins announced Friday he’s retiring, giving Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds an opportunity to build an even more conservative court.
Wiggins, 69, said he will retire March 13. He “feels that it is time to move on,” court spokesman Steve Davis said.
Wiggins was appointed to the court by Democratic Gov. Tom Vilsack in 2003. He was named acting chief justice in November after the unexpected death on Nov. 15 of Chief Justice Mark Cady, who had named Wiggins as his replacement if he were to be unable to act. Reynolds is considering three nominees to fill his vacancy.
Wiggins’ departure gives Reynolds an opportunity to replace one of the two remaining Democratic appointees on the seven-member court. The other is Brent Appel, a Democratic appointee, who in 2022 turns 72, the mandatory retirement age for state judges in Iowa.
Reynolds already has named two justices to the court — Susan Christensen in 2018 and Christopher McDonald last February. She just received the names of three nominees Thursday to fill Cady’s vacant seat.
The Wiggins vacancy will be her fourth, a significant influence for a governor in office for 2 1/2 years. Former Democratic Gov. Tom Vilsack named five justices from 1999 to 2007.
“This resignation creates the opportunity for the governor to make the court more conservative, and that appeared to be occurring even before this,” said Mark Kende, a law professor at Drake University and director of the university’s constitutional law center.
McDonald wrote an opinion in December that indicated he would strike down the court’s previous rulings on juvenile sentences, signalling his belief that previous court decisions not based on the text of the Iowa Constitution are wrongly decided and should be reconsidered.
Christensen, appointed by Reynolds last year, agreed with McDonald.
Taken broadly, McDonald’s opinion could be read as a potential threat to many significant decisions of the Iowa court in recent years centered on constitutional issues including abortion and gay marriage.
The Iowa court last year declared a woman’s right to an abortion under the Iowa Constitution and in 2009 declared a right for same-sex couples to marry citing constitutional guarantees of equal protection for all citizens.
Both decisions were written by Cady with Wiggins in agreement.
A state judicial selection panel will meet after Wiggins retires and forward her three more nominees to fill his spot on the court.
Reynolds has said she doesn’t consider political viewpoints or positions on specific issues when choosing justices but she also has said that elections matter and governors have the right to choose whom they believe best serve justice. She has acknowledged in front of conservative audiences that her choices have moved the court to the right, expressing the view that Iowa’s court was among the most liberal before.
She said in a statement on Friday that Wiggins has been a dedicated public servant for the last 17 years and has ably led the court through a difficult time after the Cady’s passing.
“Justice Wiggins has been a distinguished and active member of the legal community, and I wish him well on his retirement,” she said.
Wiggins could have served until 2023 when he turns 72. His current term is to expire in December and his name would have been on the November ballot for a retention vote.