She had impressive qualifications. Ms. Wagner had taught legal writing at George Mason University Law School in Virginia, edited three books, practiced as a trial attorney in Iowa, and written several legal briefs, including one in a U.S. Supreme Court case, Stenberg v. Carhart (2000), which struck down a Nebraska law criminalizing partial-birth abortions. The faculty-appointments committee at the University of Iowa College of Law enthusiastically recommended her appointment as a full-time instructor.

There was a catch, however. Teresa Wagner is a pro-life conservative. Her résumé showed prior employment with the National Right to Life Committee and the Family Research Council, both socially conservative organizations in Washington, D.C.

The University of Iowa's law-school faculty, like most law-school faculties, is overwhelmingly liberal. When Ms. Wagner was considered for the job, the law school had only one Republican on its 50-member faculty, according to party registration records obtained from the Iowa Secretary of State, and he had joined the faculty 25 years earlier.