2019 LEGISLATIVE SESSION

Reynolds appoints supporter of judicial nominating changes

Attorney for Vermeer will vet applicants for state judgeships

Gov. Kim Reynolds adjusts the microphone as she begins the Condition of the State address in the House Chamber at the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines on Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Gov. Kim Reynolds adjusts the microphone as she begins the Condition of the State address in the House Chamber at the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines on Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
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Gov. Kim Reynolds’ first appointee to the State Judicial Nominating Commission since signing legislation giving her more control over the appointment of judges is a corporate counsel who wrote opinion pieces in favor of the changes she sought.

Reynolds has appointed Dan Huitink, deputy general counsel at Vermeer Corporation in Pella, to the commission that vets applicants for the state Supreme Court and Court of Appeals.

Huitink fills the new position on the commission that was created by the judicial selection legislation signed by Reynolds in private Wednesday.

“I believe Dan Huitink will best represent the people of Iowa in their judicial selection process,” she said.

Huitink wrote in March that although he supports Iowa’s merit-based judicial selection process, “deciding the ‘merit’ of judicial nominees is not a completely objective endeavor.”

“When it comes to selecting judges, Iowa is right to want a system that considers merit. It is also right to involve lawyers in making selections. But Iowa’s current system isn’t flawless,” he wrote in The Gazette.

Previously, the governor appointed half of the members and the bar — licensed attorneys — filled the other half of the slots on the commission that nominate appeals court judges and Supreme Court justices.

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Under Senate File 638, an appropriations bill, the bar association will fill eight slots on the commission and the governor will appoint nine members. The change also eliminated a slot for a member of the Supreme Court.

The governor and fellow Republicans argued the former process gave the bar — a special interest group — too much influence in the appointment process.

Over time, Huitink said, the bar elected more Democrats than Republicans to the commission regardless of which way Iowans were voting.

“The process appears to silently gerrymander an entire half of the judicial nominating commissions to a group of citizens who have consistently elected far more Democrats than Republicans, by sometimes more than two to one,” Huitink said.

That stacks the deck for Democrats and leaves the other half of the commission in the hands of the party in the governor’s office, he said.

The change, he said, would eliminate a process that “seems to deal better hands to some groups and political parties than others. That’s bad in cards. It’s fair to question whether it’s bad in judicial selection.”

A Gazette analysis of the state’s judicial nominating commissions in February found Republicans now have a 2-1 advantage over Democrats on the commissions. The statewide nominating commission — which Huitink will serve on — is 69 percent Republican and 31 percent Democratic.

Huitink, whose father served in the judicial nominating commission, previously practiced law with a large national law firm, served as an assistant U.S. attorney in the Northern District of Iowa, and clerked for Judge Michael J. Melloy on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit.

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He received his undergraduate degree from Central College and his law degree from the University of Iowa College of Law, where he graduated first in his class. Huitink is a deputy member of the Iowa Business Council and previously served as a member of the Board of Governors of the Iowa State Bar Association.

Huitink’s appointment is effective immediately, and, subject to his confirmation by the Senate, will serve a term that expires on April 30, 2024.

l Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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