DES MOINES — Gov. Terry Branstad’s appointments to the State Judicial Nominating Commission include people who have advocated against the commission, a man who has been turned down for judgeships and some who have vowed to stop “activist” judges.
One appointee warns against a “tyrannical government” forming in the next 20 years.
The personal views of some of Branstad’s appointees are in their applications, released in a Freedom of Information Act open records request Lee Enterprises sent to the governor.
“I committed a great deal of time and energy working on the 2010 election that resulted in the dismissal of the Iowa’s (sic) Supreme Court judges,” Tammy Kobza, 51, a homemaker from Ireton and an appointee in District 3B, wrote in the personal statement section of her application.
“I want my children and future grandchildren to enjoy the liberties, freedoms and safety that I enjoyed growing up,” continues Kobza, who holds a master’s degree in social work from the University of Iowa, is president of the Iowa Eagle Foundation and a volunteer with the Sheldon Tea Party Patriots. “I am concerned that it may disappear to a tyrannical government within the next generation or two if we don’t do our part. Stopping judicial activism seems to me to be a significant way we can turn the tide of moral decay and loss of our liberties.”
In a phone call last week, Kobza expanded on her views.
She says the U.S. is “the most exceptional nation on Earth,” but she worries about judges who she believes legislate from the bench. She sees the Iowa Supreme Court decision that allowed gay marriage as evidence of arrogance in the judicial branch by “ruling against the people’s will.”
“Secular’s not the right word,” she said. “Anti-founder is more like it. The founders of this country were very religious people. Very, very God-fearing people.”
She said people seeking a judicial nomination from her need to be ready to answer questions about their views on natural law and the Constitution, as well as their moral and political views on “the concept that we are endowed by our Creator” with certain rights.
“It’s a humbling thing,” she said of her appointment.
At two pages, Kobza’s personal statement is the longest of the 30 appointees. Most kept their remarks to a few paragraphs or less.
Patricia Seebach, a District 6 apointee simply wrote: “tbd.”
Seebach is among at least 24 of the 30 nominees who contributed to Republican candidates and committees in their own names.
That a Republican governor would look to seat party supporters to commission spots shouldn’t come as a surprise, experts say, even if it doesn’t follow the spirit of the merit selection law.
“No, you shouldn’t be shocked,” said Scott Peters, an associate professor of political science at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, whose research focuses on politics in the judicial system. “There are a lot of political dynamics that go on (in the appointment process).”
Branstad spokesman Tim Albrecht said in an email that the governor “chose people who will work hard, select good judges and respect the law.”
Albrecht wrote that “a majority of the districts did not have a single Republican serving previously, so the governor’s actions corrected this” but party affiliation wasn’t a primary concern.
Rachel Caufield, a research fellow at the American Judicature Society, said Iowa’s merit selection process is one of the better processes in the country.
Half of the members are appointed by the state bar association and the other half appointed by the governor. There are separate commissions for filling district and appellate judgeships. The 30 appointees Branstad announced this month are for the district commissions.
Founded in 1913, the American Judicature Society is a nonpartisan organization that works to protect the integrity of the justice system. It advocates for several aspects of judicial reform, including the merit selection of judges.
Caufield said she was surprised Albrecht acknowledged that Republican credentials were a factor in the decision-making process.
“That being said, it is a gubernatorial appointment. So while politics may play some role, it certainly doesn’t live up to the ideal of having a strictly merit-based selection,” she said.
Like Peters, Caufield took special note of the appointment of Ryan Koopmans for District 5C. First, Koopmans is a lawyer — one of two — appointed by the governor even though, in theory, the bar association appoints the lawyers and the governor’s appointees are lay people. The other lawyer is David Hanson of Fayette. His personal statement mentions that he was encouraged by Brenna Findley to apply for the position after he wrote her about a proposal from the nonpartisan Uniform Laws Commission “that I thought terribly unwise.” Findley was the 2010 Republican nominee for attorney general and is Branstad’s legal counsel.
Branstad considered Koopmans last summer for an appointment to the commission that appoints appellate judges. Koopmans has publicly supported a system in which the governor appoints judicial nominees, who are then subject to Senate confirmation — similar to how the president nominates to the U.S. Supreme Court.
“It seemed like an appointment with the goal of changing the system from the inside,” Caufield said.
Koopmans’ personal statement on his application doesn’t mention the previous controversy. Instead, he mentions his “sustained interest in the judicial selection process” and how “vitally important” the selection of district judges is to the state.
While Koopmans’ statement indicates he has given thought to the role of the commission in the overall scheme of judicial work, other new commissioners seem to approach the work with very few preconceived notions.
The entire personal statement of 73-year-old Leola Harris, who works as secretary and treasurer for Harris Electrical in Hopkinton, reads as follows:
“I guess I never gave it much thought to be perfectly honest with you. Thank you (state Rep.) Steve Lukan from bringing my name up. I am sure there are many reasons I would like to help with this appointment. Thank you again.”
Judging the judges to be
Gov. Terry Branstad appointed 30 Iowans to be members of the Judicial Nominating Commission, which recommends people to become district judges. As part of the application process, prospective commissioners are asked to “Describe in detail why you are interested in serving on a state board or commission. Include information about your background that supports your interest.”
Here are answers from some of the commissioners.
“I guess I never gave it that much thought to be perfectly honest with you. Thank you (state Rep.) Steve Lukan for bringing my name up. I am sure there are many reasons I would like to help with this appointment. Thanks again.”
— Leola Harris, Hopkinton, District 1A
“In the past, I and friends of mine applied for the nomination for judicial vacancies. We did not win nomination. (Given the political makeup of the commissioners versus our own outlooks, we expected that outcome.)”
— David Hanson, Fayette, District 1B
“I am interested in serving in this capacity on the Commission to help ensure that the Judicial candidates and appointees are persons of integrity and quality who are genuinely interested in upholding the constitutional rule of law and the traditional role of the judiciary.”
— Kathleen Rehberg, Rowley, District 1B
“I have been actively involved in grassroots politics for many years and have served in positions from Precinct Caucus chairman to elected delegate for the County, District and State Republican Conventions.”
— Ella Severs, Clarksville, District 2A
“We need judges that will be thoughtful in their decision making, forward thinking in their decision making, and impartial in their decision making.”
— Mary Sukup, Dougherty, District 2A
“In the past 20 years or so, I have actively participated in the Caucuses, served on the County Republican Party, served as Fundraising Co-Chair, organized events for aspiring candidates and served as a County and State Delegate.”
— Janis Bowles , Spirit Lake, District 3A
“I have a special interest in serving on the Judicial Selection Committee. I believe that we need to appoint judges who are strict constructionalists.”
— Cody Hoefert, Rock Rapids, District 3A
“My desire is to be a part of the Judicial Nominating Commission so that we select and obtain good judges that represent and honor the Constitution of the United States of America.”
— Grace Ivey, Storm Lake, District 3A
“I want my children and future grandchildren to enjoy the liberties, freedoms and safety that I enjoyed growing up. I am concerned that it may disappear to a tyrannical government within the next generation or two if we don’t do our part. Stopping judicial activism seems to me to be a significant way we can turn the tide of moral decay and loss of our liberties.”
— Tammy Kobza, Ireton, District 3B
“As a Christian Conservative I hold our public officials to the same standard as I hold myself … honesty, integrity and the desire to achieve good for all the people served.”
— Rachel Raak Law, Correctionville, District 3B
“I am willing and interested to serve on the Judicial Nominating Committee (District 5A) to help identify qualified candidates who will judge without partiality and uphold both civil and natural law.”
— Scott Bailey, Otley, District 5A
“It is an honor. I like to be involved in the decisions that affect the lives of people in Iowa. I have been on a number of boards, some I enjoyed, some I helped dissolve.”
— Alice De-Rycke, Belle Plaine, District 6
— Patricia Seebach, Dysart, District 6
“As Scott County Republican Chairwoman and proud Iowan, I would be honored to serve as a gubernatorial appointee to the 7th District Nominating Committee.”
— Judy Davidson, Bettendorf, District 7
“The years as a regional manager with the Iowas Farm Bureau, I was asking farmers to volunteer to be involved in local and state government process. It’s my time to be more involved.”
— Catherine Miller-Sands, Wapello, District 8B