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January 19, 2011

Judge Dismisses Challenge to Iowa Judicial Nominating Commission

Ruling: Plaintiffs' Arguments "Fatally Flawed"

(DES MOINES, Iowa)  U.S. District Judge Robert W. Pratt Wednesday granted Attorney General Tom Miller’s request to dismiss a legal challenge of Iowa’s judicial and retention system, which Iowans adopted through a constitutional amendment.

“Today Judge Pratt very soundly upheld the will of the people of Iowa,” said Miller.  “This is a significant ruling that affirms our right as Iowa citizens to choose how we select our Supreme Court justices.”

Four Iowa plaintiffs, through the Indiana-based James Madison Center for Free Speech, filed a December 8 request for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa.  Miller replied with a motion to dismiss.

The plaintiffs challenged the makeup of the 15-member Iowa Judicial Nominating Commission, whose members must be chosen without reference to their political affiliation.  The Commission is comprised of the most senior Iowa Supreme Court Justice other than the Chief Justice, who serves as chair; seven members chosen by the governor; and seven lawyer members elected by Iowa attorneys.  The Commission submits three finalists for an open Iowa Supreme Court seat to the governor, who appoints the Supreme Court Justice.

In his 35-page ruling, Judge Pratt called the plaintiffs’ arguments “fatally flawed.”  In granting the state’s motion to dismiss, Pratt wrote that the plaintiffs “may prefer that Iowa had a different method of judicial selection, but absent a violation of a clearly-established constitutional right, the people of Iowa are entitled to retain the judicial selection system they chose in 1962.”

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