Southeast Polk High School’s Government and AP Government and Politics classes recently had the honor of hosting a distinguished guest speaker, Chief Justice Susan Christensen, accompanied by her esteemed colleagues Megan Tooker, Counsel to the Chief Justice; Anna Stoeffler, Senior Law Clerk to the Chief Justice; and Joni Fleig, Official Court Reporter.

The visit, organized by Mady Kieler, SEP High School Government and AP US Government Teacher, provided junior and senior government classes with an opportunity to engage with a prominent figure in our legal system and gain insights into the workings of our judicial system.

Chief Justice Christensen presenting to SEP Government ClassesIn her engaging session, Chief Justice Christensen recounted her personal journey to the esteemed position she holds today. Hailing from Harlan, Iowa, she was a young girl with big dreams. She shared anecdotes from her path, including college choices, practicing law for 16 years, and becoming a judge. Prior to her appointment to the Supreme Court, Chief Justice Christensen was appointed a district associate judge in 2007 and a district court judge in 2015.

During the session, Chief Justice Christensen delved into two pivotal topics and included interesting first-hand examples:

  • She explained the significance of the Sixth Amendment in safeguarding the rights of criminal defendants. The Sixth Amendment guarantees fundamental rights such as the right to a fair trial, legal counsel, an impartial jury, and full disclosure of charges and evidence. The students had studied this topic earlier this school year.
  • Highlighting court reporting as a compelling career avenue within the legal sphere, she shed light on its pivotal role as the custodian of verbatim recordsCourt Reporter for Chief Justice Christensen's presentation during trials and depositions. With just two years of college education, court reporting offers an accessible entry point for those interested in contributing to the legal system. During a mock exchange between attorneys, Court Reporter Joni Fleig demonstrated how she could take down every spoken word using the special short-hand court reporting machine.

Chief Justice Christensen’s Words of Wisdom

  • Dream big
  • Find a mentor
  • Work hard and be nice to people
  • Never, never, never give up
  • Never let your job own your soul

Chief Justice Christensen’s extensive professional contributions, including her leadership roles in various judicial committees and councils aimed at advancing children’s rights, family justice, and mental health initiatives, were also discussed. Her dedication to service and multifaceted involvement in legal advocacy underscored her commitment to improving Iowa’s legal landscape. She chaired the Children’s Justice State Council and the Family First Task Force, and served on the Supreme Court’s Family Law Pro Se Forms Committee, Child Support Guidelines Review Committee, Parents Representation Standards Committee, and Guardianship/Conservatorship Task Force as well as the Children’s Mental Health and Wellbeing Advisory Committee. She is a member of the Iowa Judges Association, the Iowa State Bar Association, the Southwest Iowa Bar Association, and the Shelby County Bar Association. 

Chief Justice Christensen teaching about different judges to SEP Government ClassesFurthermore, the session provided valuable insights into the structure of the Iowa Supreme Court, where Chief Justice Christensen presides alongside esteemed colleagues. As the highest court in the state, its decisions set legal precedents that guide lower courts in their adjudications. Her current term expires December 31, 2028.

Chief Justice Christensen is married with five children and nine grandchildren. 

In closing, Chief Justice Christensen’s visit left a lasting impression on the students, empowering them with knowledge, inspiration, and a deeper appreciation for the workings of our judicial system.