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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: 485655

Reported Deaths: 6558
CountyCasesDeaths
Hennepin1007641586
Ramsey43106801
Dakota36297390
Anoka33293385
Washington22078256
Stearns18734201
St. Louis14805262
Scott13290107
Wright12526115
Olmsted1178988
Sherburne872872
Carver772640
Clay691587
Rice670491
Blue Earth594735
Kandiyohi579574
Crow Wing520681
Chisago499045
Otter Tail482170
Benton446490
Winona418349
Mower404731
Douglas392668
Nobles387047
Goodhue385768
Polk343162
McLeod339349
Beltrami337951
Morrison324547
Itasca313046
Lyon313044
Becker311342
Isanti306154
Steele300411
Carlton300149
Pine282016
Freeborn280723
Nicollet258641
Todd248030
Brown245037
Le Sueur235320
Mille Lacs227447
Cass220024
Waseca208717
Meeker207434
Martin189528
Wabasha18653
Roseau180217
Hubbard160640
Houston157314
Dodge15224
Renville149640
Redwood147027
Fillmore13728
Chippewa136335
Cottonwood134820
Pennington134416
Wadena130920
Faribault123017
Aitkin118833
Sibley117310
Watonwan11738
Rock115714
Kanabec107519
Pipestone101424
Yellow Medicine97617
Murray9448
Jackson93510
Swift87918
Pope8045
Marshall77815
Stevens7418
Lake74018
Clearwater71914
Lac qui Parle68416
Wilkin67110
Koochiching61811
Big Stone5163
Lincoln5062
Grant4918
Norman4788
Unassigned46768
Mahnomen4417
Kittson40921
Red Lake3625
Traverse3055
Lake of the Woods2191
Cook1180

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 362827

Reported Deaths: 5440
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk58260551
Linn20670313
Scott18318210
Black Hawk16258292
Woodbury14979211
Johnson1384874
Dubuque13562194
Dallas1138690
Pottawattamie10791143
Story1024945
Warren556674
Clinton543784
Cerro Gordo533782
Webster519587
Marshall497272
Sioux494869
Buena Vista474537
Des Moines458861
Muscatine452291
Wapello4345108
Jasper417766
Plymouth395378
Lee375452
Marion359169
Jones294154
Henry293337
Carroll286249
Bremer280854
Crawford275135
Boone259730
Washington254347
Benton253854
Mahaska224746
Jackson221638
Dickinson217840
Tama213765
Kossuth208555
Clay193625
Hamilton192142
Delaware189140
Winneshiek189127
Buchanan185729
Fayette185235
Page183319
Hardin181439
Wright179931
Harrison179469
Cedar178523
Clayton168154
Butler167231
Mills163020
Floyd162741
Cherokee154836
Madison154718
Poweshiek154330
Hancock147130
Allamakee146747
Lyon145941
Iowa145023
Appanoose139247
Grundy139230
Jefferson138734
Winnebago138631
Cass134751
Calhoun133811
Mitchell130940
Louisa128241
Union126631
Chickasaw125215
Sac124618
Emmet121740
Shelby121733
Franklin118319
Humboldt117925
Guthrie116628
Palo Alto105221
Montgomery104136
Howard102921
Clarke100420
Unassigned9900
Keokuk98229
Monroe93328
Adair92128
Ida91432
Pocahontas85419
Davis83123
Monona81627
Greene77510
Lucas74021
Osceola70615
Worth6997
Taylor66612
Fremont5909
Decatur5829
Van Buren56118
Ringgold52320
Wayne48921
Audubon4889
Adams3274
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