What is an oral argument?
An oral argument is an oral presentation attorneys make to the court. Oral argument is an opportunity for attorneys to emphasize certain legal points and for the appellate court to ask questions about the case to help clarify the parties’ arguments. Oral argument is not an opportunity to raise new facts or new legal arguments. Attorneys must limit their presentation to information in the trial court record and to the legal issues raised on appeal.
- The appellant (party who filed the appeal) speaks first.
- The appellee (opposing party) speaks after the appellant.
- The appellant follows with a brief rebuttal or reply argument.
- During oral argument, the supreme court justices may ask the attorneys questions.
Oral arguments are always open to the public. The Iowa Supreme Court holds its regular sessions in Des Moines. Schedules are posted on the Iowa Supreme Court website at https://www.iowacourts.gov/iowa-courts/supreme-court/supreme-court-oral-argument-schedule/.
Iowa’s appellate courts
There are two appellate courts in Iowa’s judicial system—the Iowa Supreme Court and the Iowa Court of Appeals. All appeals are to the Iowa Supreme Court. The supreme court transfers certain cases to the court of appeals for disposition.
The Iowa Supreme Court has seven justices. The governor appoints the justices from a slate of three nominees the state judicial nominating commission selects. The justices serve eight-year terms. The members of the court elect the chief justice.
The Iowa Court of Appeals has nine judges. The governor appoints court of appeals judges from a slate of three nominees the state judicial nominating commission select. Court of appeals judges serve six-year terms.
An appeal is the transfer of a case from a trial court to a higher court, an appellate court, for review of the lower court decision or judgment to assure that substantial justice has been rendered.
An appellate court does not preside over trials. Appellate court hearings do not involve witnesses, juries, new evidence, or court reporters. Instead, an appellate court reviews the written record of the trial court to determine whether any significant legal errors occurred during the trial. The trial court record includes the evidence admitted during the trial, transcripts of witness testimony, and rulings from the trial court.
Following oral arguments, the court will discuss in private the legal questions raised in the case. Later, one justice, who has the task of writing the collective decision of the court, will begin researching and writing the court’s opinion. At the same time, the other members of the court are also writing opinions for other cases. Opinion drafts circulate among the members of the court. The justices comment on the circulating opinion drafts and debate legal points with each other. This process continues until a majority of justices agree on a final version of an opinion.
The appellate court can:
- Affirm, to uphold the decision or order of the lower court;
- Reverse, to set aside the decision or order;
- Remand, to send the case back to the lower court with instructions, including instructions to hold a new trial.
A justice who disagrees with the majority opinion may write a dissent that explains why the justice disagrees. A justice who agrees with the result, but not necessarily for the same reasons, or to emphasize certain reasoning, may write a special concurrence.
Both the Iowa Supreme Court and the Iowa Court of Appeals post opinions on the Iowa Judicial Branch website (www.iowacourts.gov). You may subscribe to receive automatic email notification of newly posted opinions of the Iowa Supreme Court and the Iowa Court of Appeals at https://www.iowacourts.gov/iowa-courts/supreme-court/supreme-court-opinions/subscription/subscribe/.