Voting Alignment on the Iowa Supreme Court

by Ryan Koopmans | July 16, 2012

By Ryan Koopmans

As Mike Wiser reported over the weekend, we’ve been keeping a Supreme Court scorecard here at On Brief.  Since Justices Waterman, Mansfield, and Zager joined the Court in 2011, we’ve been tracking who voted with whom, how long the Court took to decide the case, how the case got there (direct appeal, further review, certified question, etc.), and which district court the case came from.

Once the Court issues its final opinions of the term on July 27, we plan to publish our findings along with a few observations about the Cady Court’s first full term.  But since the topic of voting alignment is in the air, we thought we’d provide a look at how the justices have voted so far.

The new justices  began deciding cases on April 22, 2011.  Since then, the Court has issued 147 decisions, 26 of which are disciplinary decisions.  Of the 121 non-disciplinary decisions, 102 (84%) were unanimous.  That means that at least one justice dissented in 19 cases, which represents 16% of the total.

So the justices agree in the vast majority of cases.  But since lawyers are in the business of over-analyzing everything, we tend to focus on the dissenting opinions: Who voted with whom? Do certain justices frequently agree or disagree with certain other justices?  Do certain justices frequently switch sides–that is, are there any “swing votes”?

Two voting blocs have emerged on the Court: Chief Justice Cady and Justices Waterman and Mansfield on one end, and Justices Wiggins, Appel, and Hecht on the other.  These justices agreed with the others in their group most of the time, and they agreed every time the Court split 4-3 (which has happened ten times).   Justice Zager, on the other hand, has emerged as a true swing vote.  He’s been in the majority in every case, and of the ten decisions that split 4-3, he’s voted with Justices Wiggins, Appel, and Hecht four times and the Chief Justice and Justices Waterman and Mansfield six times.

The chart below shows how often each justice agreed with his colleagues.  Again, these figures encompass only the 19 cases in which there was at least one dissenting opinion.  Also, because Justices Appel, Waterman, and Mansfield each recused himself in at least one case, the denominators vary.  For instance, Justice Appel recused himself from one case and Justice Waterman recused himself from another, so they sat together in 17 of the 19 cases.  And they agreed with each other twice–or 12% of the time.

Justice Agreement – Non-Unanimous Cases
Wiggins Appel Hecht Waterman Mansfield Zager
Cady 26% 28% 16% 83% 93% 74%
Wiggins 89% 89% 11% 13% 53%
Appel 89% 12% 0% 44%
Hecht 0% 0% 42%
Waterman 100% 61%
Mansfield 67%




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On Brief: Iowa’s Appellate Blog is devoted to appellate litigation with a focus on the Iowa Supreme Court, the Iowa Court of Appeals, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.


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