Iowa High Court Dismisses Challenge to Changes in Judicial Nominations

The Iowa Judicial Branch building in Des Moines, which houses the Iowa Supreme Court. (Photo via Ctjf83/Wikipedia)

DES MOINES, Iowa — The Iowa Supreme Court refused to revive challenges over legislative changes in the way appellate judges are picked in Iowa.

In a one-line order signed Friday night by Chief Justice Susan Christensen, the Supreme Court brought to an end legal appeals by a group of legislators and two Iowa attorneys who had argued that a bill passed by the state Legislature in 2019 violated the Iowa Constitution. In both rulings, the Court of Appeals said the plaintiffs lacked standing to challenge the Legislature’s action.

“This is the end of the line. The Supreme Court lets stand sharply divided Court of Appeals decisions,” Bob Rush, a Cedar Rapids attorney and former state senator who represented plaintiffs in both cases, said Sunday in an interview.

He called the Supreme Court’s action “the most disappointing decision in 50 years of practice.”

“It sends the wrong message,” Rush continued. “It tells legislators the Constitution can be ignored if they have the votes.”

Governor Kim Reynolds praised the court’s action. “This decision is good news for the rule of law and for Iowans, who will have a greater voice in the process of selecting our judges,” Reynolds said in a statement.

The Iowa Legislature last year passed a bill that gave Reynolds, a Republican, more power over the selection of judges to the Iowa Supreme Court and the Iowa Court of Appeals. A dozen Iowa lawyers and Democratic legislators sued in response, arguing the change politicized judicial selection.

When a trial court dismissed that suit for lack of standing, it was refiled with a different plaintiff, and the trial court allowed that version to proceed. Both trial court decisions were appealed to the Iowa Supreme Court, which transferred them to the Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals threw both cases out in February.

A five-judge panel of the appellate court held in the first suit, Rush v. Reynolds, that none of the plaintiffs — including lawyers, state legislators and current or former members of the State Judicial Nominating Commission — had a sufficient stake in the issue to establish standing to bring the lawsuit.

Likewise, in the second ruling in Duff v. Reynolds, the panel ruled that Des Moines lawyer Thomas Duff also lacks standing. Duff, who had unsuccessfully applied for an opening on the appeals court, argued the change in the nominating process was a factor in his not being selected. The Court of Appeals said that was not enough to give him standing.

Two members of the five-judge panel dissented in part. The plaintiffs appealed those rulings to the Iowa Supreme Court, which brought the appeals to a close with Friday’s order.

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