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Lawsuit: Iowa Judicial Selection Unconstitutional

Now, a federal lawsuit has been filed with hopes of overturning Iowa's 48-year-old judicial selection system. Just when I think I can stop writing about this issue for a while, the *** pull me back in.

From the Register:

Four Iowans allege in a federal lawsuit that the commission process used to select finalists for the Iowa Supreme Court denies them a chance to participate equally in the selection of justices and judges.

The lawsuit alleges that participation of the commission’s seven lawyer members denies them a say in the process and violates their constitutional equal-protection rights. The seven lawyer members are elected by other Iowa attorneys who admitted to the state bar.

The lawsuit in U.S. District Court seeks a judge’s order to prevent the commission from selecting finalists to replace the three Iowa Supreme Court justices who were denied new terms by voters last month.

The petition was filed by Steve Carlson of Woodbury County, Mary Granzow of Polk County, Richard Kettells of Pleasant Hill, and William Ramsey of Black Hawk County.

The DMR posted the lawsuit here.

Iowa's 15-member nominating commission has seven members elected by lawyers and seven picked by the governor. Its chairman is the most senior Supreme Court Justice who is not the chief justice.

The plaintiffs claim that their inability to participate in the bar election denies them equal protection under the law and violates their voting rights.

Here is the constitutional provision setting out the commission rules, approved by Iowa voters in 1962:

State and district nominating commissions. SEC. 16. There shall be a state judicial nominating commission. Such commission shall make nominations to fill vacancies in the supreme court. Until July 4, 1973, and thereafter unless otherwise provided by law, the state judicial nominating commission shall be composed and selected as follows: There shall be not less than three nor more than eight appointive members, as provided by law, and an equal number of elective members on such commission, all of whom shall be electors of the state. The appointive members shall be appointed by the governor subject to confirmation by the senate. The elective members shall be elected by the resident members of the bar of the state. The judge of the supreme court who is senior in length of service on said court, other than the chief justice, shall also be a member of such commission and shall be its chairman.

There shall be a district judicial nominating commission in each judicial district of the state. Such commissions shall make nominations to fill vacancies in the district court within their respective districts. Until July 4, 1973, and thereafter unless otherwise provided by law, district judicial nominating commissions shall be composed and selected as follows: There shall be not less than three nor more than six appointive members, as provided by law, and an equal number of elective members on each such commission, all of whom shall be electors of the district. The appointive members shall be appointed by the governor. The elective members shall be elected by the resident members of the bar of the district. The district judge of such district who is senior in length of service shall also be a member of such commission and shall be its chairman.

Due consideration shall be given to area representation in the appointment and election of judicial nominating commission members. Appointive and elective members of judicial nominating commissions shall serve for six-year terms, shall be ineligible for a second six-year term on the same commission, shall hold no office of profit of the United States or of the state during their terms, shall be chosen without reference to political affiliation, and shall have such other qualifications as may be prescribed by law. As near as may be, the terms of one-third of such members shall expire every two years.

The Register notes that similar federal lawsuits in other states that adopted the "Missouri Plan" for judicial selection, as Iowa did, have been thrown out.

It's sort of ironic that court-opponents, who railed against the Iowa SUPCO for supposedly overturning the "will of the people" by legalizing gay marriage, are now asking the federal court to overturn the will of the people who adopted the constitutional amendment in 1962. But that will is so old. This is new will, which is better, unless your talking about old fonders' will. Oh will.

It's hard for me to get too worked up about defending the poor bar association. But trust me, folks, this lawsuit is less about reforming our current nominating system and more about tossing it out so we can have popular elections for judges. Then the American Family Association can spend millions picking our Supreme Court, right after they win the war on Christmas. No thanks.

James Bopp Jr., one of the nation's most prominent conservative attorneys, is lead counsel in the challenge. Bopp played a key role in lawsuit that resulted in the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark Citizens United ruling on corporate political contributions. He's also led the legal charge to shield the names of Washington state voters who signed petitions to repeal the state's civil unions law. He was a strong backer of Mitt Romney's presidential campaign in 2008.

What do you think about the nominating system. Should it be changed? Should the bar be included? Should we elect judges?You know what I think. What say you?

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