Reynolds vetoes judicial nominating commission changes

By: - June 17, 2022 7:39 pm

Changes to Iowa's judicial nominating courts were vetoed by Gov. Kim Reynolds Friday. (Photo by Krisanapong Detraphiphat/Getty Images)

Gov. Kim Reynolds vetoed changes to Iowa’s judicial nomination commissions on Friday.

Reynolds signed the judicial appropriations bill, House File 2558, but vetoed two parts of the bill that would change judicial nominating commissions.

Iowa uses nominating commissions to find candidates to fill vacancies for judicial districts, the Iowa Supreme Court and Court of Appeals, as directed by the state Constitution. The governor chooses a nominee from finalists picked by the commissions.

The vetoed section would have changed to who chairs district court nominating commissions.

As it stands, district judicial nominating commissions are chaired by senior district court judges. The legislation would have had commissioners elect their chair instead, with a senior judge still serving on the panel.

In her veto message, Reynolds said the section would not address concerns about the “undue influence of judges” on district court commissions.

In 2021, former District Judge Kurt Stoebe was accused of making disparaging remarks about candidates for a judicial vacancy, which led to Reynolds’ initially rejecting the commission’s picks.

The governor said her experience restarting the commission selection process makes her sympathetic to legislators’ concerns, but argued the proposed change would not solve the problem.

“Judges would remain as members on each commission and would likely continue to be elected to serve as chair,” Reynolds wrote. “Any other result would create an uncomfortable dynamic for all other commissioners – especially the elected lawyers who regularly practice in front of that judge and have a reasonable interest in fostering that relationship.”

The Legislature has successfully approved other measures to give more power to the governor in the judicial nominating process. As of 2019, the governor appoints nine of the 17 members in the statewide nominating commission. The remaining eight are chosen by state lawyers.

The remade Iowa Supreme Court on Friday reversed its 2018 ruling that found a state constitutional right to abortion. Republican governors have appointed six of the seven current Iowa Supreme Court justices.

Democrats defeated four of Reynolds’ appointees to the state commission during the 2022 legislative session. Senate Minority Leader Zach Wahls, D-Coralville said, the governor was in violation of state law.

“Iowa code reads that people who are appointed to the state judicial nominating commission shall be chosen without reference to political affiliation,” Wahls said in May. “But today, eight out of the nine members of the state judicial nominating commission are registered Republicans.”

The other vetoed section was a requirement of equal gender representation on nominating commissions. Iowa law stated “no more than half” of commissioners appointed will be of the same gender.

Iowa commissions’ gender requirements were challenged in May, when two plantiffs argued in a lawsuit they were functionally kept from running for the statewide judicial nominating commission because of the requirement that two commissioners from the same congressional district must be of different genders.

“Their ability to serve on the State Judicial Nominating Commission should be based on their qualifications, not on their gender,” the complaint filed in federal court argued.

One change in the judicial budget bill did make it through: The governor is no longer required to pass through the chief judge’s budget recommendation to the Legislature in her budget recommendation.

Reynolds also signed appropriation bills for the justice system and a variety of other state departments.

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Robin Opsahl
Robin Opsahl

Robin Opsahl is an Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter covering the state Legislature and politics. Robin has experience covering government, elections and more at media organizations including Roll Call, the Sacramento Bee and the Wausau Daily Herald, in addition to working on multimedia projects, newsletters and visualizations. They were a political reporter for the Des Moines Register covering the Iowa caucuses leading up to the 2020 presidential election, assisting with the Register's Iowa Poll, and reporting on Iowa's 4th District elections.