Challenges to Iowa’s judicial nominating process have taken on new urgency because of the death of Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Cady.
Democratic lawmakers and others are challenging changes made last session by the Republican-controlled Legislature that allow the governor more control over judicial nominations, asking the state Court of Appeals to stop those changes until weighing the merits of their cases.
“It will only complicate issues down the road if they are not dealt with now,” said Cedar Rapids attorney Bob Rush, who is involved in both challenges — one by lawmakers and another by an attorney who unsuccessfully sought to be nominated to be a judge.
In both cases, “we’ve asked for a temporary injunction while the court considers the substantive issues,” said Rush, a former lawmaker.
An assistant attorney general defending the law expects the courts will continue to take the position that injunctions are not appropriate.
“The terrible loss of Chief Justice Cady creates a vacancy on the Supreme Court is new information, and I guess the court might consider that,” Jeffrey Thompson said. “But there have been vacancies on the Court of Appeals and filling them has gone forward.”
Thompson explained that the Attorney General’s Office is defending the office of the governor, which executes laws enacted by the Legislature.
“Without talking to the governor, we wouldn’t be in a position to change our position either way,” he said.
In the challenges to Senate File 638, the plaintiffs said the GOP-controlled Legislature violated rules against “logrolling” by including unrelated matters in one bill and violated 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 a change in the law that gives the governor more influence over the selection of justices.
Previously, the judicial nominating commission for statewide appointments 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.
The process of choosing a successor to Cady has begun.
Gov. Kim Reynolds has received official notification of the vacancy and has 10 days to call a meeting of the state judicial nominating commission. The commission has 60 days to accept applications, interview candidates and submit the names of three finalists to the governor. Reynolds then has 30 days to name a justice.
The court itself will choose a chief justice to serve the remainder of Cady’s term that expires in January 2021. Under changes the Legislature made, the court will elect a chief justice every two years rather than every eight years.
“There is an added urgency to it,” Rep. Brian Meyer, D-Des Moines, an attorney and one of the plaintiffs, said Monday. “But the courts are very deliberative.”
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