Iowa Supreme Court Building Photo credit: Ctjf83 via Wikimedia Commons (CC-By-SA 3.0)

Week 2 in the Iowa House was busy and productive. As Chair of the Judiciary Committee, I am focused on legislation that has begun moving through the committee process.  I am also working on Judicial Nomination Reform, the importance of which was brought into sharp focus recently with ethical questions as to how our court system is operating, amid increasing judicial activism from the bench.  

Legislation has begun moving through the committee process.  The Judiciary Committee has many pieces of legislation to consider, and I will review each to determine if it is needed, if it respects the constitutional liberties of our citizens, and if it is an appropriate use of government authority. Government cannot and should not attempt to solve every problem, but where appropriate, government should act to protect our citizens and advance liberty. Some of my top priorities: strengthening child sexual abuse laws; reforms to our Conservatorship and Guardianship laws; revisions to pet animal cruelty laws; criminal justice reforms; the Governor’s initiative to restore felony voting rights once the debt to society has been paid; advancing the resolution to recognize 2nd Amendment rights in the Iowa Constitution; and protection of the unborn.  Also, at the top of the list is judicial nomination reform.

As I write this newsletter, Polk County District Court Judge Karen Romano, for a second time, struck down portions of the Voter ID law the Legislature passed in 2017.  This legislation made it easy to vote but harder to cheat, and the changes were carefully constructed to pass constitutional muster. House Democrats opposed our efforts, and Judge Romano is married to the Director of the House Democrat Caucus staff.  I believe she should have recused herself from hearing this case based on a clear conflict of interest. This is only the latest in a growing list of concerns as to the conduct of some in our Judiciary. 

Many consider the Judicial branch’s decision to extend commission member’s service by six months to allow them to select Supreme Court nominees for the current vacancy resulting from Justice Daryl Hecht’s retirement, to be unlawful. A 2008 state law requires three of these members to leave in January when their terms expired. The court used a different section of law to justify what appears to be a decision based on political expediency and their desire to have a particular form of judicial philosophy on the bench.

Republicans believe that judges are constitutionally obligated to interpret the law as written, as opposed to predisposing an outcome and then crafting a path to achieve a desired result. This is the conflict between interpretation vs. judicial activism. Often, what cannot be achieved the proper way in our representative democracy, which is through our elected representatives, is achieved through the court system and judicial activism, also known as “legislating from the bench.” Judicial activism subverts the democratic process, effectively transferring authority from elected officials to judges on the bench. 

The current system used to appoint individuals to the commissions that provide nominees to the Governor for judicial and Supreme Court vacancies enables the Bar Association to place members on these commissions without any oversight or approval by the elected representatives of the people. Contrast this with the Governor’s selections for these commissions. They must be approved by a super-majority in the Senate. This is not a criticism of the Bar; it is a criticism of the system currently used. 

I will work to establish a process that gives more voice to the people and provides candidates to the Governor that reflect her judicial philosophy of interpretation, not judicial activism. The process should provide nominees that reflect a governor’s judicial philosophy, be they Republican or Democrat. We will consider a number of options as we work to give more voice to the people in this process, through their elected representatives.

Photo credit: Ctjf83 via Wikimedia Commons (CC-By-SA 3.0)

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