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Iowa woman promoted to nation's lone all-male Supreme Court

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DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds on Wednesday promoted a female district judge to the Supreme Court in Iowa, the only state where all of its current justices are men.

Susan Christensen will be the first woman on Iowa's high court in roughly eight years. The appointment doesn't require confirmation by lawmakers for Christensen to take the bench.

During brief remarks from her formal office at the state Capitol, Reynolds praised Christensen's background, which most recently includes being a district court judge in the Fourth Judicial District in southwest Iowa. She previously worked as an assistant county attorney and a district associate judge.

Reynolds prefaced Christensen's announcement by saying that Iowans need "judges who understand the proper role of the courts within our government. Judges who will apply the law, and not make it."

The last woman to serve on the Iowa Supreme Court was Chief Justice Marsha Ternus, who lost her retention election in 2010. Ternus was part of a unanimous decision in 2009 that effectively legalized same-sex marriage in the state. Groups opposing same-sex marriage then led a successful campaign to get Ternus and two other justices voted out of the court.

Christensen, a 56-year-old from Harlan in western Iowa, will face a retention election in 2020. She was one of three finalists, which included Chief District Court Judge Kellyann Lekar of Waterloo and attorney Terri Combs of West Des Moines. That reality ensured Iowa's next justice would be a woman. A state nominating commission whittled down the choices from an initial pool of 21 applicants, 14 of whom were women.

Iowa's national distinction of an all-male Supreme Court is based on an analysis from Eric Ostermeier, a research fellow at the University of Minnesota. It was not disputed by the Iowa Judicial Branch.

Christensen will replace Justice Bruce Zager, who's retiring in September. He was appointed by former Gov. Terry Branstad, a Republican who stepped down last year to become U.S. ambassador to China.

Standing next to Reynolds, Christensen said she was "honored and humbled" by the appointment. The pick is the first for Reynolds, the state's ex-lieutenant governor who is serving out Branstad's term. Reynolds is seeking her first four-year term as governor in this year's midterm elections.

Christensen received her law degree from Creighton University School of Law in Nebraska and her undergraduate degree from Judson College in Illinois.

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