December 10, 2012

Osky law student looks at Iowa Supreme Court

The Oskaloosa Herald

OSKALOOSA — Iowa is only one of two states that has an all-male Supreme Court and law student Gina Messamer, of Oskaloosa, suggests some changes to balance that out.

Messamer is a third-year law student at the University of Iowa and wrote a study on the issue for the Iowa Law Review.

“I wrote this last year as a student writer,” she said.

Messamer said she got the idea to write about the Iowa Supreme Court while she was doing an externship for Judge Mary Tabor. She also read a history of the Iowa Court of Appeals done by Judge Richard Doyle for Drake University and was interested by the issue.

Messamer began writing her study in the fall of 2011 and finished it this past spring. She did some revisions during the summer and it was published in the first volume of the Law Review this school year.

The University of Iowa News Service did a profile of Messamer and her work. In her study, Messamer discovered that Iowa has had only two female justices in its history — Linda Neuman, from 1986 to 2003, and Marcia Ternus, from 1993 to 2010.

Idaho is the only other state in the nation with an all-male supreme court. Indiana recently had a female justice join its supreme court, Messamer said.

Iowa has the Judicial Nominating Commission that reviews and nominates supreme court candidates to the governor to fill judicial vacancies. The governor selects half of the members of the Judicial Nominating Commission while the Iowa Bar Association fills the other half. The governor appoints lay people to the commission while the bar association appoints legal professionals, Messamer said.

During her study, Messamer found that from 1978 to 2011, only 21 percent of applicants for supreme court justice vacancies were women and only 10 percent of the nominating commission members during that time were women, the University of Iowa News Service reported.

Messamer makes some recommendations to redress the imbalance. She said awareness of the situation could be raised by state officials if they compared the number of female judges and justices and the number of women available for those positions and compare that to other states. Also, members of the Judicial Nominating Commission should be trained to be aware of their own potential biases. Finally, candidates should be evaluated based on their successes at each judicial level and how that could be applied for the position they are applying for, according to the University of Iowa News Service.

Messamer said she has had some positive feedback about her study.

“People have been nice about it,” she said. “People are happy that someone has done this research.”

There are women who are trying to get more female candidates for supreme court and federal court, she said.

Messamer said that about half of her law school class is composed of women. She said law school classes typically include between 40 and 45 percent women.

After she completes law school, Messamer said that she wants to work for Justice Thomas Waterman.

Messamer is a 2004 graduate of Oskaloosa High School. She earned her bachelors degree in marketing and political science from Texas Christian University in 2008.


Herald Editor Duane Nollen can be reached by email at oskynews@oskyherald.com