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Federal judge again denies injunction in suit on Iowa judicial selection process

Iowa plaintiffs wanted to halt enforcement of a gender-balance requirement while they appealed the denial of their first injunction request.

(CN) — For the second time in 10 days a federal judge has denied two Iowans’ effort to temporarily halt enforcement of a state law that requires an equal number of male and female elected members of a commission that vets applicants for the state’s Supreme Court and Court of Appeals.

Rachel Raak Law of Correctionville and Micah Broekemeier of Iowa City are ineligible to seek seats on the State Judicial Nominating Commission because the seats open in their respective districts must be filled by a person of the opposite sex. They argued in a May 24 lawsuit the gender-balance requirement violates their constitutional rights under the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.

U.S. District Judge Stephanie Rose on Nov. 20 denied the plaintiffs’ motion for an injunction barring enforcement of the gender-balance law while their case is heard. Two days later, they filed a notice of appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit and a motion to enjoin enforcement of the statute while their appeal is heard.

In an eight-page order issued Wednesday denying the plaintiffs’ latest motion for an injunction, Judge Rose reiterated the arguments she used in her previous ruling and noted that federal trial courts and federal appeals courts typically do not assert jurisdiction simultaneously. Thus, she wrote, a notice of appeal generally confers jurisdiction on the appeals court and divests the district court of control.

Rose disagreed with the plaintiffs’ argument that her previous ruling made an “unrealistic assumption” about the potential number of women interested in serving on the commission based on the proportion of female lawyers in Iowa compared to male lawyers.

“The Court did not suggest women were interested in elected positions at the same rate as men, only that the demographic breakdown of individuals who applied for and were appointed to Commission supported the conclusion that women had serious interest in these roles,” she wrote in Wednesday’s order. “From this fact, as well as the absence of elected women on the Commission, the Court reasoned sex could fairly be said to be a motivating factor in their exclusion from elected positions despite a lack of direct evidence.”

Wencong Fa, senior attorney for the California-based Pacific Legal Foundation, which is representing the Iowa plaintiffs, said in a statement Wednesday the issue is the rights of individuals, not groups.

“By dictating equality of outcomes among groups rather than protecting equality of rights among individuals, the Iowa Gender Quota violates the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment,” he said. “Our clients are well qualified to serve on the Judicial Nominating Commission. Iowa should not deprive them, for no other reason than their gender, of the opportunity to even place their name on the ballot in the upcoming election.”

A spokesman for the Iowa Attorney General’s office declined to comment on Wednesday’s ruling.

Eight of Iowa’s 17-person State Judicial Nominating Commission that vets appellate court applicants are elected by Iowa lawyers, two from each of the state’s four congressional districts. A state statute enacted in 1987 requires that one elected member from each district must be male and the other female to achieve gender balance. The governor appoints the remaining nine members of the commission and is limited to appointing no more than a simple majority of those members from the same gender.

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