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Iowa Supreme Court takes a right turn under Gov. Reynolds

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds - AP image

Through a combination of coincidence, a mandatory retirement age of 72 for judges and changes in the selection process that favor Republicans, Reynolds could make the most appointments to the seven-member court since former Democratic Gov. Tom Vilsack named five from 1999 to 2007.

Posted: Jul 3, 2019 10:16 AM

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds is transforming the Iowa Supreme Court from one that leaned liberal to a solidly conservative body, prompting concerns among critics that it could erode past support for civil liberties as well as abortion and gay rights.

Through a combination of coincidence, a mandatory retirement age of 72 for judges and changes in the selection process that favor Republicans, Reynolds could make the most appointments to the seven-member court since former Democratic Gov. Tom Vilsack named five from 1999 to 2007.

Governor for just over two years, Reynolds already has appointed two justices — one due to illness and another a retirement . One of her appointees is a member of the conservative Federalist Society, which has been instrumental in vetting judges for President Donald Trump's aggressive push to remake the federal courts.

The current balance of the court is 5-2 Republican, although GOP appointee Chief Justice Mark Cady often sides with liberals. Reynolds will get to replace Brent Appel, a Democratic appointee, who turns 72 in 2022, the last year of her current term. If she runs and wins a second term as governor she could replace David Wiggins in 2023, the last retiring Democrat appointee and Cady in 2025 to complete the conservative transformation.

It marks a stark contrast from the recent past, when an Iowa Supreme Court ruling in 2009 made it the third state in the nation to legalize same-sex marriage. As recently as 2018, the court established the foundation for a fundamental right to abortion under the Iowa constitution. Reynolds' appointment were after that ruling.

Since the abortion ruling, the new majority has begun to assert itself. Last week in a 4-3 decision , the new majority concluded that police can continue to charge drivers with crimes they weren't initially stopped for, a practice civil rights groups say is racial discrimination.

In May the court in another 4-3 decision , supported a 2017 law that removed bargaining rights for many state employees.

Republicans this year used their advantage of control over the governor's office and majorities in both chambers of the Legislature to change the selection process for judges from a nonpartisan judicial commission to one giving the governor more power.

Under the previous system established in the 1960s, potential judges and justices were chosen by a commission made up of lawyers elected by lawyers and appointees named by the governor. The equal balance of legal professionals and political appointees was seen as a way to minimize political influence. The commission was chaired by the senior justice of the state Supreme Court.

The commission reviewed applications for openings on the bench and sent three finalists to the governor, who names justices.

Supreme Court justices in Iowa face retention elections every eight years and must earn a majority of votes to remain on the bench.

Republicans complained that the lawyers appointed to the commission tended to be more to the left and sent liberal nominees to the governor.

They cited a law professor's 2017 research suggesting that Iowa's courts leaned to the left of its citizens more than any state except New Hampshire of the 36 states that used judicial commissions to help select judges.

"Iowa was near the top in terms of leftward judiciary," said Vanderbilt University law professor Brian Fitzpatrick, who studied 3,000 state appellate judges tracking campaign contributions, party registration and primary voting data to reflect political leaning.

Reynolds signed into law in May a change that removed the senior Supreme Court justice as the chairman and replaced him with the governor's appointee , giving her a majority on the commission.

"We're certainly concerned now because the governor does have more power and I think is more partisan," said Connie Ryan, chairwoman of Justice Not Politics, a group that pushes to keep politics out of the courts.

The changes prompted several Democratic lawmakers to sue, saying the new law was legislative overreach and violated the state constitution. But the lawsuit was dismissed last week. The lawmakers have appealed to the Iowa Supreme Court.

Religious conservatives are thrilled with the changes, hoping that a Republican-dominated court will endorse restrictions on abortion.

"It's an improvement. Our biggest thing is to put power back to the people and get judges favorable to the constitution," said Bob Vander Plaats, an influential Christian conservative activist who heads a group called The Family Leader. "We believe the sanctity of human life is constitutional, that our plan for marriage is constitutional."

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 276500

Reported Deaths: 3321
CountyCasesDeaths
Hennepin590031089
Ramsey24988472
Anoka19724213
Dakota19215176
Washington12538106
Stearns1226689
Scott753854
St. Louis740897
Wright663436
Olmsted610130
Sherburne512539
Clay445155
Carver409712
Blue Earth373511
Rice361431
Kandiyohi348215
Crow Wing316130
Nobles296028
Chisago28398
Otter Tail266615
Benton261940
Winona246128
Mower236722
Polk228621
Douglas219829
Morrison211621
Lyon193711
McLeod18879
Beltrami184615
Goodhue177626
Becker17559
Itasca168924
Steele16756
Todd165312
Isanti165015
Carlton153610
Nicollet146523
Freeborn13935
Mille Lacs132830
Le Sueur13219
Waseca129710
Cass12018
Pine11926
Brown117510
Meeker10797
Roseau9923
Martin98220
Hubbard97022
Wabasha9121
Dodge7850
Redwood78018
Watonwan7754
Chippewa7697
Sibley7094
Renville70818
Cottonwood7060
Wadena7006
Aitkin68923
Pipestone67018
Rock6439
Houston6152
Fillmore6050
Yellow Medicine56611
Pennington5356
Kanabec52911
Murray5283
Swift4976
Pope4820
Faribault4750
Stevens4442
Clearwater4356
Marshall4277
Jackson4091
Lake3584
Unassigned34356
Koochiching3325
Wilkin3275
Lac qui Parle3203
Lincoln3141
Norman3096
Big Stone2771
Mahnomen2494
Grant2346
Red Lake1903
Kittson1856
Traverse1330
Lake of the Woods871
Cook580

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 213603

Reported Deaths: 2193
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk31707324
Linn13442161
Scott1040375
Black Hawk10393127
Woodbury9932114
Johnson911635
Dubuque879290
Story647619
Dallas602856
Pottawattamie585166
Sioux351925
Webster335930
Marshall332942
Cerro Gordo326541
Clinton307737
Buena Vista291114
Muscatine270366
Des Moines270116
Plymouth259537
Warren258510
Wapello242871
Jones222212
Jasper206639
Marion194418
Carroll190920
Lee190315
Bremer182612
Henry17087
Crawford170615
Benton160315
Tama146340
Jackson13758
Delaware136221
Washington131313
Boone128811
Dickinson127510
Mahaska121327
Wright11625
Buchanan11009
Page10834
Hardin107510
Clay10624
Clayton10234
Harrison102328
Hamilton10157
Cedar101413
Calhoun10047
Mills9886
Fayette9768
Floyd96914
Lyon9668
Kossuth9464
Poweshiek93712
Butler9134
Winneshiek90310
Iowa88011
Winnebago87523
Louisa81316
Hancock8067
Grundy79710
Chickasaw7893
Sac7817
Cherokee7624
Cass75419
Appanoose7426
Shelby7265
Allamakee72411
Mitchell7184
Union7096
Guthrie70815
Emmet70623
Franklin68419
Humboldt6645
Madison6474
Jefferson6351
Palo Alto6064
Unassigned5950
Keokuk5397
Pocahontas5192
Howard5069
Greene4980
Osceola4941
Clarke4614
Davis4405
Ida43910
Montgomery43210
Taylor4312
Monroe42912
Adair4157
Monona3932
Fremont3463
Van Buren3364
Worth3360
Lucas3076
Decatur3000
Wayne2876
Audubon2831
Ringgold1892
Adams1551
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