Judicial nominating commissions will soon begin evaluating possible replacements for Iowa Supreme Court Justices Marsha Ternus, Michael Streit and David Baker. The law gives the commissions 60 days to submit a short list of candidates for judgeships to the governor, which means soon to be former Governor Chet Culver could nominate justices before Governor-elect Terry Branstad is sworn in. Branstad said yesterday that he should appoint the new members of the high court:
“I think it would be inappropriate to have a governor that was just rejected by the voters try to rush through appointments to a court when the court was just rejected as well. I think we need to really sit down and think this thing through in a really careful way,” Branstad says. “But really my focus is on jobs. That’s why the people of Iowa elected me as governor and that’s where I’m going to put my focus in the days ahead.”
Culver has not promised to let Branstad appoint the new justices. A November 3 statement from the governor’s office said only this:
“I am reviewing the matter carefully to ensure the judicial selection process that is utilized now is consistent with the Iowa Constitution, with Iowa law, and with past practices used in the course of both Democratic and Republican administrations in instances when multiple vacancies in our appellate courts have been created simultaneously.”
Meanwhile, Republican Party of Iowa Chairman Matt Strawn says it would be “unconscionable” for Culver “to thumb your finger in the eyes of the voters who just repudiated those Supreme Court Justices and, quite frankly, repudiated you and the one party, Democrat rule in Des Moines.” Strawn also called for “a further discussion too on how we change the way judges are nominated and selected in this state as well, because I think that too is part of the problem.” Getting rid of Iowa’s judicial nominating commissions would require a constitutional amendment, but a new law could make minor changes. For instance, Branstad has endorsed efforts to require partisan balance on the judicial nominating commissions.
The Supreme Court has already heard some oral arguments in this year’s caseload. It’s not clear whether the four remaining justices will issue rulings on those cases or rehear the oral arguments once replacements for Ternus, Streit and Baker have been selected.
The November 4 edition of the Des Moines Register published a map showing the judicial retention vote by Iowa county. There was a strong urban/rural split in the voting. In seven counties, more than 70 percent of votes cast on retention said no to all three judges. In 48 counties, the no votes on retention totaled between 60 and 70 percent. In 34 counties, the no votes totaled between 50 and 60 percent. In Clinton County, Streit and Ternus received a majority of votes for retention, but the yes votes for Baker fell below 50 percent. All three judges received a majority of yes votes in the remaining nine counties: Winneshiek (Decorah area), Black Hawk (Waterloo/Cedar Falls), Story (Ames), Polk (Des Moines), Linn (Cedar Rapids), Johnson (Iowa City), Muscatine, Scott (Quad Cities), and Jefferson (Fairfield area). I will update this post with a link to the map if I find it on the Register’s website.
UPDATE: Thanks to Bleeding Heartland user ragbrai08 for posting the map in the comments below. I’ve posted it after the jump as well.