By James Q. Lynch, The Gazette
The Iowa Supreme Court has denied issuing a temporary injunction in a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of a new state law restructuring the state’s judicial nominating process, but has granted a motion for an expedited appeal.
The suit was brought by eight Democratic state legislators, Cedar Rapids lawyer Bob Rush and Judicial Nomination Commission member Martin Diaz of Swisher.
The lawsuit filed in late May was dismissed by a Polk County District Court judge who said the plaintiffs did not have standing to bring the challenge. The plaintiffs appealed, but Supreme Court Justice Bruce Zager denied their motion for a temporary injunction to prevent the changes for now.
The defendants, including Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds, resisted the call for a temporary injunction. However, they joined the request for an expedited appeal.
Zager gave the appellants — those bringing the challenge — 14 days to file their final brief. Reynolds and others named in the lawsuit will have 14 days after that to file a final brief. The appellants will have seven days to file a response.
The lawsuit challenges Senate File 638 that was passed in what the appellants call a “shady deal” in the final hours of the 2019 legislative session.
Iowa’s statewide judicial nominating commission interviews applicants to the Iowa Supreme Court and state appeals court and creates a list of finalists. The governor then appoints one from that list.
Before the legislative changes, half of the nominating commission’s members were selected by licensed lawyers and half were appointed by the governor, subject to approval by the Iowa Senate. The senior-most state Supreme Court justice who was not the chief justice served as the commission’s chair.
With the changes, eight commission members are chosen by the bar but the governor appoints nine members.
In challenging the law, Rush, a former legislator, explained the plaintiffs believe lawmakers violated rules against “logrolling,” or the inclusion of unrelated matters in one bill. Legislators also violated the requirement that the title of a bill contain the subject matter to “prevent fraud and surprise.” There is no mention of the judicial nominating commission in the bill’s title.
Finally, the plaintiffs call the portion of SF 638 dealing with judicial nominating procedures a violation of the constitutional establishment of coequal branches of government because it changes the selection of and term for the court’s chief justice.
The Legislature directed the court to select a chief justice every two years. But the term and selection of the chief justice is a matter for the court, not lawmakers, to decide, Rush said.
In addition to Rush and Diaz, state Reps. Art Staed and Liz Bennett of Cedar Rapids, Mary Mascher of Iowa City, Brian Meyer, Jo Oldson, Brian Meyer and Rick Olson of Des Moines, Mark Smith of Marshalltown and Mary Wolfe of Clinton — all Democrats — brought the lawsuit.
In addition to Reynolds, others named in the suit are Glen Dickinson and Leslie Hickey, both of the Legislative Services Agency, and Dan Huitink, the governor’s ninth appointee to the commission.