Iowa chief justice will sit out hearing involving him

Democrats' suit challenges law that ends his term three years early

Mark Cady, chief justice on the Iowa Supreme Court, arrives for the Condition of the State address in the House Chamber
Mark Cady, chief justice on the Iowa Supreme Court, arrives for the Condition of the State address in the House Chamber at the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines on Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019. (Gazette photo)

CEDAR RAPIDS — The chief justice of the Iowa Supreme Court has recused himself from hearing a lawsuit challenging a change in the judicial nominating process that the Legislature enacted earlier this year.

In a 14-page explanation of his decision, Chief Justice Mark Cady said although he engaged in no activity to support his disqualification from hearing the case, he would remove himself because a “reasonable person could conclude that I have a personal interest and financial interest” in the outcome.

The new law, passed in the final hours of the 2019 legislative session, changes the selection process and length of service of the chief justice. Cady’s term as chief justice will end in January 2021, three years sooner than under the previous law. The financial interest in the case’s outcome stems from his salary being reduced by about $8,000 to that of an associate justice.

In separate orders, each of the other six justices declined to recuse themselves from hearing the challenge brought by Democratic members of the Legislature as well as Cedar Rapids attorney Bob Rush and Martin Diaz, a member of the Judicial Nominating Commission from Swisher.

The plaintiffs — state Reps. Art Staed and Liz Bennett of Cedar Rapids, Mary Mascher of Iowa City, Jo Oldson, Brian Meyer and Rick Olson of Des Moines, Mark Smith of Marshalltown and Mary Wolfe of Clinton — asked the justices to recuse themselves if they had “consulted with, advocated with or encouraged in any non-administrative manner” any of the defendants.

In addition to naming Gov. Kim Reynolds as a defendant in the suit, the plaintiffs included Glen Dickinson and Leslie Hickey, both of the Legislative Services Agency, and Dan Huitink, the governor’s ninth appointment to the Judicial Nominating Commission.

In his order, Cady said he spoke with the governor and lawmakers as well as their staffs, but never advocated for or against Senate File 638.


Cady outlined how he sought to make himself available to lawmakers. Beginning in January 2011, he held office hours at the Capitol every Monday during the session.

Although lawmakers and others raised questions about the bill, he and the associate justices and court staff did not take a position on it.

“On all of these occasions, we declined to discuss the merits of the bill and expressed the Supreme Court position to defer to the judgment of the legislature,” Cady wrote, referring to himself and staff members. He was not speaking for other justices.

Currently, the parties to the case are waiting on a ruling from the state Supreme Court on whether it will hear oral arguments. The plaintiffs have asked for oral arguments. The state said they are not necessary.

The plaintiffs also have appealed a Polk County District Court ruling that they do not have standing to bring the legal challenge.

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