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April 9, 2012

U.S. Court of Appeals Upholds Iowa Judicial Selection Process

Court affirms U.S. District Court decision dismissing complaint

(DES MOINES, Iowa)  A United States Court of Appeals panel Monday affirmed a U.S. District Court judge’s dismissal of a complaint challenging Iowa’s merit selection system for selecting judicial candidates to serve on the Iowa Supreme Court and Iowa Court of Appeals.

“Iowa’s system of election for the Commission’s attorney members by and from members of the Iowa Bar is rationally related to Iowa’s legitimate interests,” ruled a three-judge panel of the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis, Missouri.

The ruling affirms a January 18, 2011, decision by U.S. District Judge Robert W. Pratt dismissing the legal challenge of Iowa’s judicial and retention system, which Iowans adopted through a constitutional amendment in 1962.

“The Court of Appeals, through its ruling, speaks loud and clear about the manner in which Iowans have chosen to select our state’s Supreme Court justices,” said Attorney General Tom Miller.

On December 8, 2010, four Iowa plaintiffs, through the Indiana-based James Madison Center for Free Speech, filed a request for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa, claiming that Iowa’s method for electing the attorney members of the Commission is unconstitutional.  Attorney General Tom 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.

“Who better-suited to evaluate the credentials of judicial aspirants than other members of the Iowa Bar?  Attorneys will typically be more familiar with the judicial candidates than the general public,” wrote the panel.  “They will be in a better position to evaluate each candidate’s qualifications and determine who has ‘the legal acumen, the intelligence, and the [judicial] temperament to best serve the people of [Iowa].’”

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