The Iowa Supreme Court issued the final decisions of its 2012-2013 term at the end of August. In total, the justices decided 100 cases, 17 of which involved attorney discipline.
Of the Court’s 83 non-disciplinary decisions, 30 included a dissent. That’s a relatively high number of dissents for the Iowa Supreme Court, which sometimes keeps dissenting opinions in the single digits. It’s also higher than last term, where the justices split in 19 cases, which represented 16% of the Court’s non-disciplinary docket. But the Iowa Supreme Court is still more unanimous than the U.S. Supreme Court, which issues split votes in over 50% of its cases.
During the 2011-2012 term (the beginning of the Cady Court), the justices broke into two voting blocs, with Chief Justice Cady and Justices Waterman and Mansfield on one side (Wateman and Mansfield agreed in every case), and Justices Wiggins, Hecht, and Appel on the other. Justice Zager played the role of swing justice and found himself in the majority every time.
The 2012-2013 term was similar, but there are a few noticeable differences. There were still two consistent voting blocs, but neither group included Chief Justice Cady. Like Justice Zager, he was a “swing justice” this term.
Justice Zager also found himself in dissent four times this term. And Justices Waterman and Mansfield disagreed twice (they parted ways over the Double Jeopardy Clause in State v. Lindell and over the Fifth Amendment in State v. Washington), and each justice agreed with every one of their colleagues in at least five of the 30 non-unanimous decisions. (Last year Justice Hecht never agreed with Justices Mansfield or Waterman, and Justices Mansfield and Appel never agreed, either).
These are, of course, just statistics; you can’t glean much from them without digging into the cases. And while the Cady Court might be a divided court, relatively speaking, it is certainly a strong court. The Iowa Supreme Court hears difficult cases, and it would be surprising if the justices always, or almost always, agreed.
Here’s a complete breakdown of how often each justice agreed with his colleagues in the 30 non-unanimous decisions (putting aside disciplinary cases). Note, however, that some of the justices recused themselves in one or two of these cases, so the denominator isn’t always 30. Also, for comparison, the second chart shows how often each justice agreed with his colleagues in the previous term.
2012-2013 Term: Justice Agreement – Non-Unanimous Cases Wiggins Appel Hecht Waterman Mansfield Zager Cady 67% 61% 59% 33% 41% 55% Wiggins 86% 86% 30% 24% 55% Appel 93% 18% 19% 41% Hecht 24% 18% 50% Waterman 93% 52% Mansfield 46% Zager
2011-2012 Term: 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% Zager