Sometimes issues of state law come up in federal cases. When that happens, and when the state law is unclear, federal courts can certify the question to the state’s highest court, asking it to weigh in. This certification process stops the federal case until the state court rules, however, which can present problems for the litigants if the state court takes a long time to answer the certified question.
The justices of the Iowa Supreme Court appear to understand this. Indeed, based on their decisions in Iowa Right to Life Committee, Inc. v. Tooker and Oyens Feed & Supply, Inc. v. Primebank, they’re working to speed up the certification process. The Court issued its opinion in Iowa Right to Life just 183 days after the federal court certified the question, its opinion in Oyens Feed only 270 days after the federal court sought its guidance. And both decisions—authored by Justices Mansfield and Waterman respectively— came within three weeks of oral argument. That’s fast.
And much faster than the Court moved in the past. From January 2001 to December 29, 2011, the Court issued seven decisions in which it answered certified questions from a federal court. On average, those decisions took 498 days from the date that the federal court certified the question. (A chart with relevant dates appears after the jump.)
The Iowa Supreme Court’s likely prize for answering the Right to Life and Oyens Feed questions so quickly: more certified questions.
Certified Questions 2001-2011