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Iowans challenge gender-balance rule for judicial selection panel

Two Iowans say they want to run for seats on the commission but are barred only because of their sex.

(CN) — An Iowa law mandating an equal number of male and female elected members of the commission that interviews applicants for the state’s Supreme Court and Court of Appeals spurred a federal complaint on Tuesday from two Iowans.

Eight of Iowa’s 17-person State Judicial Nominating Commission 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.

Rachel Raak Law of Correctionville and Micah Broekemeier of Iowa City — both of whom would like to be elected to serve on the commission — argue in Tuesday's lawsuit that the gender-balance requirement means they are not eligible simply on the basis of their sex, not on the basis of their qualifications. Represented by Des Moines attorney Alan Ostergren, they argue this violates their equal protection rights under the Constitution.

“The gender quota is especially pernicious because it limits opportunities for Iowans to participate in the judicial selection process,” the complaint states. “Commissioners are entrusted with the important task of interviewing candidates for Iowa’s appellate courts. In conjunction with the governor, the State Judicial Nominating Commission selects judges on the Iowa Court of Appeals and justices on the Iowa Supreme Court. Pursuant to the gender quota, however, men can only run for seats previously held by a man and women can only run for seats previously held by a woman.”

The complaint's only named defendant is Robert Gast, in his official capacity as state court administrator for the Iowa Judicial Branch, who administers the nominating panel election. A spokesman for the Judicial Branch said Tuesday that it does not comment on pending cases.

Under Iowa’s judicial-selection process, which follows the so-called “Missouri Plan,” state appellate and district court commissions interview applicants for judicial openings and make recommendations to the governor, who makes appointment from among the applicants selected by the commissions.

The complaint says Iowa law imposes a gender-based classification, which is subject to intermediate scrutiny that requires the government to show the statute’s gender classification serves an “important government objective” and is “substantially related to the achievement of those objectives.”

“Gender balancing is not an important government interest that can sustain a gender classification under the equal protection clause,” the lawsuit states. And, “even if the gender quota served an important government interest, the mechanism it uses is not sufficiently tailored to that interest.”

The plaintiffs seek an injunction barring enforcement of the statute.

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