Four Iowa voters filed suit yesterday in federal court to stop the dominating influence of attorneys over the system for selecting state judges in Iowa, arguing that this influence denies ordinary Iowa voters an equal voice in selecting justices for the Iowa Supreme Court.
Three Iowa Supreme Court justices lost their retention elections this November. Under Iowa law, nominations for their replacements are made by the fifteen member State Judicial Nominating Commission. Only candidates nominated by the Commission may be appointed by the Governor. Since all nominees allowed to move forward by the Commission may be opposed to the Governor, the Commission, and not the people, has complete control over who becomes a judge in Iowa. Seven of Commission members are selected in elections in which only attorneys can vote. The current system thus guarantees lawyers a far greater say than ordinary citizens in Iowa in selecting judges who have great power and control over the lives of regular citizens.
The suit asks the court to stop the elected members of the Commission from participating in the nomination process and to stop any future election restricted to attorneys. The Commission can go forward and make its nominations without attorney member participation. According to attorney James Bopp, Jr., lead counsel for the plaintiffs, the Iowa system “gives attorneys a stranglehold on the judiciary. Lawyers in Iowa have enormous influence over who the state judges are, while the ordinary voter is denied the right to an equal voice.”
The case is Carlson, et al. v. Cady, et al. The complaint and memorandum supporting the motion for a temporary restraining order are available in PDF format online at the James Madison Center’s website, www.jamesmadisoncenter.org.