News

Challenges to Iowa judge selection law fail in state appeals court

DES MOINES — The Iowa Court of Appeals on Wednesday refused to let a group of lawmakers and attorneys move forward with two lawsuits challenging a law passed last year that gave the governor more power over the selection of Supreme Court and appeals court judges.

One case was filed by Democratic lawmakers and lawyers, some of whom are members of the state judicial selection commission restructured by the new law.

Bob Rush, a former Democratic state senator and a lawyer, is a plaintiff in the case and represented the others who filed the lawsuit.

The case alleges the bill violated the Iowa Constitution because it contained multiple subjects and failed to clearly describe the subject matter of the bill. It also alleges the Legislature encroached on judicial branch powers by dictating a shorter term of office for the chief justice.

The bill was passed at the end of the 2019 legislative session in a catchall funding and policy bill.

The case was dismissed by a judge who said the lawmakers, lawyers and commission members didn’t have legal standing to challenge the law.

A divided appeals court Wednesday in a 3-2 decision upheld the judge’s decision. Three Republican appointees, including one appointed by Gov. Kim Reynolds, favored dismissing the lawsuits, and two appointees of former Democratic Gov. Chet Culver said the cases should have been allowed to move forward.

Rush said he will ask the Iowa Supreme Court to review the decision.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

The judicial commission members claimed the new makeup of the commission, which gave the governor a majority of appointees on the 17-member panel, diluted the votes of the lawyer members.

Critics say the changes inserted politics into the judge selection system and shifted the balance in favor of the governor. Supporters say lawyers previously had too much clout in the process.

The court said each commissioner still has one vote and each vote carries the same weight as before, so they have no standing to sue.

The Democratic legislators who sued also have no standing to challenge the law. The court said to succeed, a lawmaker would have to show injury in a personal and individual way, and the plaintiff lawmakers have not done so in this case.

The second challenge to the law was filed by Des Moines lawyer Thomas Duff, who interviewed to be an Iowa Court of Appeals judge but wasn’t a finalist. His legal challenge is similar to the first lawsuit, but he claimed since he was personally affected by the new makeup of the commission he had a better chance of proving standing to sue.

“Duff can neither show an injury nor could any such injury be subject to redress in this court,” the judges said in ordering his case to be dismissed.

Judge David Danilson wrote in a dissenting opinion that he would allow the cases to move forward, declaring that plaintiffs have standing because the questions are of significant public importance centered on constitutional rights.

Duff said he will ask the Iowa Supreme Court to review the decision.

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.