Justice Susan Christensen was selected by her fellow justices as the new chief justice of the Iowa Supreme Court on Monday. Christensen succeeds Chief Justice Mark Cady, who died unexpectedly in November.
Justice David Wiggins served as acting chief justice following Cady’s death. Wiggins announced in January that he will retire on March 13.
“I am honored to be selected by my colleagues as chief justice of the Iowa Supreme Court,” Christensen said in a written statement. She also thanked Wiggins for the stability he brought to the court during the interim period.
“As chief justice, I will maintain my passion for child welfare and juvenile justice and do my best to lead Iowa’s judiciary in a manner which provides all 99 counties with fair and impartial justice,” Christensen said.
Christensen, who was appointed to the high court by Gov. Kim Reynolds in 2018, has a deep connection to the court that predates her appointment. Christensen’s father, Jerry Lawson, was the longest-serving justice in the history of Iowa Supreme Court.
Christensen is the second woman to serve as Iowa’s chief justice. In 2006, Justice Marsha Ternus was chosen as the court’s leader. Ternus was chief justice when the court handed down it history-making decision in the case of Varnum v. Brien, which established marriage equality in Iowa.
Ternus, along with two other justices, was targeted in a well-financed opposition campaign by far-right and fundamentalist Christian groups ahead of the retention election in 2010. All three justices were defeated.
There were no women on the Iowa Supreme Court between the end of Ternus’s term and Christensen’s appointment.
“We need judges who understand the proper role of the courts within our government,” Reynolds said when she announced Christensen’s appointment to the Iowa Supreme Court in 2018. “Judges who will apply the law, not make it. Judges who will decide cases based upon the text of our statutes and constitution, not their personal policy preferences.”
Christensen was the first person Reynolds appointed to the Iowa Supreme Court. Since then, the governor has appointed two more justices, Christopher McDonald and Dana Oxley. Reynolds will also appoint a new justice to replace the retiring Wiggins, which means, over the course of two years, she will have appointed the majority of the court’s seven justices.
Speaking to a conservative Christian gathering in July, Reynolds boasted that “the tide is turning in Iowa’s Supreme Court.” She added, “In just two short years, we’ve moved the needle from left to right.