Government

Iowa Supreme Court rejects challenges to judicial nomination changes

CEDAR RAPIDS — The Iowa Supreme Court has rejected two challenges to changes in the state judicial nominating process, ending an attempt by lawmakers and others to overturn what they argued was politicization of the panel that nominates judges.

In both cases, the Supreme Court said in a one-sentence ruling late Friday that after considering the challenges, further review was denied.

The Supreme Court has been asked to reverse a pair of 3-2 decisions by the Iowa Court of Appeals that found the plaintiffs lacked standing to challenge the lawmakers’ actions in the 2019 session.

In one case, the challenge was brought by Democratic lawmakers as well as a current and former member of the nomination commission. The other was brought by an attorney who unsuccessfully applied for a seat on the Appeals Court.

Bob Rush, a Cedar Rapids attorney who was part of the original challenge, called the Supreme Court ruling the “most disappointing decision in 50 years of practice.”

“It sends the wrong message. It tells legislators the Constitution can be ignored if they have the votes,” said Rush, himself a former lawmaker.

However, Gov. Kim Reynolds called the decision “good news for the rule of law and for Iowans, who will have a greater voice in the process of selecting our judges.”

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The Attorney General’s Office deferred comment to the governor, simply saying its arguments were based on the question of standing.

Since the change in the law, Reynolds has appointed four Supreme Court justices — a majority of the court, including Chief Justice Susan Christensen. The latest appointee, Matthew McDermott, did not participate in either decision handed down Friday.

The plaintiffs raised a challenge to Senate File 638, which made changes in how members of the Judicial Nominating Commission are selected to allow the governor to pick the majority of the panel.

The original case was rejected for a lack of standing. The plaintiffs refiled, and a current and former member of the nominating commission joined the eight Democratic legislators and Rush.

A second challenge was raised by Thomas Duff, a Des Moines attorney who applied for an Appeals Court appointment. That was not enough to give him standing, the Appeals Court ruled in February. The lawmakers who brought the challenge were Reps. Mary Mascher of Iowa City, Art Staed and Liz Bennett of Cedar Rapids, Rick Olson, Marti Anderson and Brian Meyer of Des Moines, Mark Smith of Marshalltown and Mary Wolfe of Clinton. Martin Diaz and Leon Spies joined them after the initial ruling that the plaintiffs did not have standing.

In making their case, the plaintiffs said the GOP-controlled Legislature violated rules against “logrolling” by including unrelated matters in one bill and the requirement that the title of a bill contain the subject matter. In this case, the title included no mention of the judicial nominating commission.

They also challenged the change to allow the governor to choose the majority of judicial nominating commissioners. Previously, the judicial nominating commission was eight members of the bar, eight governor’s appointees and the senior Supreme Court member. Lawmakers eliminated the role of the senior justice and gave the governor a ninth appointee, giving the governor a majority on the commission.

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

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