(A few reasons) why Angela Onwuachi-Willig should be appointed to the Iowa Supreme Court

Various law blogs have mentioned the news that University of Iowa law professor Angela Onwuachi-Willig is on the short list for the Iowa Supreme Court

Angela is a leading scholar on topics of racial justice and critical race theory.  She is the only woman on the shortlist, as well as the only person of color

In addition, Angela is a longstanding supporter of LGBT rights who has written eloquently in favor of marriage equality and who signed a brief supporting marriage equality in Varnum v. Brien.

Given the backdrop of the current Iowa vacancies — they are the direct result of a homophobic right-wing smear campaign — I am thrilled to see Angela’s name on the shortlist.  I can think of no better way to respond to the anti-gay hate machine than to fill a court vacancy with a smart, articulate, energetic Black woman who is committed to LGBT rights — and to a principled and progressive feminist and antiracist legal philosophy as well.

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7 Responses

  1. Maryland Conservatarian says:

    Wow – right on!! – way to embrace the “new” civility…you know, now that I think about it, Obama’s 2008 anti-gay message of support for traditional marriage is probably the only reason Iowa voted for him.

    Of course yours is really the only rational response to voters who refuse to accept that lawyers are presumptively the best arbiters of societal norms and that to disagree with some of them in such a dramatic fashion (in this instance , not giving them a majority “yes” vote) only serves to perpetuate the myth that perhaps progressives don’t know what’s best for the rest of us.

  2. Chris says:

    I agree with the pro-Onwuachi-Willig sentiments, but those are the reason she will probably not be nominated and almost certainly not be confirmed. We have a new Republican governor who, while not a firebrand, will not want to upset the rabid conservatives this early in his term. The senate, while controlled by Democrats, is split closely enough that concern for their own political survival will lead a number of Democrats to vote against her. I hope I’m wrong. While never having her for class, every interaction I had with Prof. Onwuachi-Willig was great.

  3. AYY says:

    Aren’t we supposed to be on the civility bandwagon now?
    The article you link to doesn’t support your statement that the vacancies were the result of a “homophobic right wing smear campaign” or an “anti-gay hate machine.” It was that the judges were kicked out because they usurped the role of the legislature. It’s the difference between process and substance. You could have made that clearer.
    Also being a leading scholar on critical race theory and being committed to a progressive philosophy might play well in academia but it does not suggest that she would serve the citizens of Iowa well as a Supreme Court justice.

  4. ouch says:

    Dear god, Kaimi, we usually think that impartiality is a good quality in a judge, not extreme partisanship. Plus, many Iowans may think that a state supreme court candidate should have certain qualities beyond sharing Kaimi’s political agenda, like: prior judicial experience; significant litigation experience; high respect among practicing attorneys; significant academic work in important doctrinal fields (not in “critical legal studies”, but “real” legal studies, showing one’s capacity not just to yakk about injustice, but to work within existing statutes and precedents, etc). What you’ve written here pretty much disqualifies Ms.O-W from the job, but I am hoping that despite your odd attempts to stir political hype, she is in fact a qualified candidate.

  5. Kaimi says:

    ouch writes that “many Iowans may think that a state supreme court candidate should have certain qualities beyond sharing Kaimi’s political agenda, like: prior judicial experience; significant litigation experience; high respect among practicing attorneys; significant academic work in important doctrinal fields”

    Based on the judicial retention election, I don’t think that Iowans are looking for judges with those qualities at all. After all, they just voted to throw out three judges who easily meet those criteria. Take a look at http://www.iowacourts.gov/Supreme_Court/Justices/Michael_J_Streit/ :

    Justice Streit was born and raised in Sheldon, Iowa. He received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Iowa in 1972 where he majored in economics with emphasis in health economics. While attending the University of San Diego School of Law, Justice Streit was editor-in-chief of the San Diego Law Journal. He was a member of the law review and wrote articles on securities regulation. He has received the Distinguished Alumni award from the University of San Diego for his service to the profession and the Iowa courts.

    After graduating in 1975, Justice Streit was licensed in the Iowa, California, and Nebraska courts. Justice Streit chose to practice law with the Morr and Shelton law firm in Chariton, Iowa where he served farmers, businessmen, and everyday Iowans. He also served as Assistant Lucas County Attorney and Lucas County Attorney. Justice Streit was appointed as a district court judge by Governor Terry Branstad in 1983. Justice Streit served in all 16 counties of the Fifth Judicial District. He held trials from Newton to Corydon, Des Moines to Bedford. Governor Branstad appointed Streit to the Iowa Court of Appeals in 1996. In the five years on the Court of Appeals Streit wrote over 600 decisions. In 2001, Governor Thomas Vilsack appointed Justice Streit to the Iowa Supreme Court. While serving on the court, Justice Streit has been Chair of the Rules committee. He has also served on the Bar Admissions and Administrative committees. He enjoys serving as liaison to the Fifth and Seventh Judicial districts and has served in that capacity to the Eighth Judicial district.

    Justice Streit has been involved in professional education and public speaking. Justice Streit has served in a wide variety of capacities with a large number of groups. A partial list includes: Board of Counselors of Drake Law School, Chair of the New Judge Orientation Program, Chair of the New Judge Mentor Program, STOP Violence Against Woman Coordinating Council, Iowa Supreme Court Select Committee on Child Welfare, State Bar Annual Committee, Judicial Evaluation and Performance Committee and the Anglo-American Exchange Program serving in the British courts for two months. Justice Streit also served on the Supreme Court Committee on Public Access to the Courts, Iowa Court Information System Board, Domestic Violence Group, Judges Association Family Law, Criminal Procedure, Gender/Racial Bias Committee, Supreme Court Advisory Committee on Evidentiary Presumptions, Rural Justice Institute in Montpelier, Vermont, Chariton Jaycees, Department of Human Services Forensic Mental Health Unit Task Force, Criminal Justice Listening Post, Iowa Council for International Understanding, Chair of the Managing Trials Effectively group, Model Court Project, and the Iowa Court Improvement Project Training and Education Task Force.

    Justice Streit is the chair of the Supreme Court Education Advisory Committee and was the chair of Judges Association Education Committee. He chaired the planning committee formulating a five year education plan for all the judges and employees of the judicial branch aimed at improving the services provided every day to Iowans coming to our courts. He began the Iowa Judicial Institute in 1992. The Institute provides in-depth educational opportunities to Iowa judges at the Drake and Iowa Law Schools each year seeking to improve the professionalism and knowledge of judges as they serve Iowa citizens. He has taught Iowa Contract law in the Bar Review school for new lawyers taking the bar exam. He has done this for fifteen years. Justice Streit taught computer use to judges and served for ten years on the Supreme Court Judicial Technology Committee. As a founding member of the Blackstone Inn of Court he participates in presentations of legal and ethical presentations to some of Iowa’s best attorneys.

    And there’s Chief Justice Ternus (private practice, Bar Association president, jury instructions committee).

    And Justice David Baker (25 years private practice, exceptional ratings on Martindale-Hubble, extensive bar association and CLE work).

    You can see http://iabar.net/associations/4664/files/Supreme%20Court.pdffor details on each.

  6. AYY says:


    The problem is that according to the article you linked to and the comments to that article, Prof Onwuachi-Willig wasn’t even licensed to practice in Iowa until the end of January of this year. This means she’s never tried a case or argued an appeal in an Iowa court.

    Now one can wonder why someone who wasn’t even licensed to practice in a state feels qualified enough to have applied for an opening on the state Supreme Court. But what’s more bizarre is that she beat out 50 other highly qualified candidates to make the short list, and some of those candidates were sitting judges. The only explanation is that those who picked the short list had a political or sociological agenda.

  7. ouch says:

    Kaimi: Iowa voters obviously thought those judges were qualified because they were appointed in the first place; they were removed because voters believed that judges usurped the role of the legislature. Based on these facts, you are suggesting to appoint a woman who has no relevant experience whatsoever *and* who shares the agenda that got the qualified judges ousted. How does it make sense?

    By the way, I just looked up Ms. O-W’s resume, and there is no question she is unqualified. (I share her views re gay marriage BTW). She only became a member of the Iowa bar in anticipation of this appointment! How well do you think she knows Iowa law? How well does she understand Iowa’s judicial and legal institutions? She has no judicial experience, very limited practice experience, no name as a practicing attorney, and no name as a doctrinal academic. C’mon now. Iowa can do better. No doubt there are women and non-whites who are actually qualified. Why the commission selected her is beyond me.