A new plaintiff is challenging the validity of Iowa’s law changing the composition of the State Judicial Nominating Commission and shortening the term of the Iowa Supreme Court chief justice. Attorney Thomas Duff filed suit in Polk County District Court earlier this month, citing the same three points a separate lawsuit raised in May:
1. When they added last-minute judicial provisions to the appropriations bill Senate File 638, Iowa lawmakers violated the state “constitutional protection against logrolling” in Article III, Section 29, which requires bills to “embrace but one subject, and matters properly connected therewith.”
2. The same process was unconstitutional because Republican lawmakers did not amend the bill title to include “an accurate description of the subject matter” in the revised Senate File 638. Article III, Section 29 stipulates, “if any subject shall be embraced in an Act which shall not be expressed in the title, such Act shall be void only as to so much thereof as shall not be expressed in the title.”
3. The portion of the law requiring the Iowa Supreme Court to elect a chief justice every two years is “a legislative encroachment on judicial powers,” and therefore “violates Article III and Article V of the Iowa Constitution by dictating to a separate and co-equal branch of government […].”
Bleeding Heartland discussed prospects for proving each of those claims here. The first task is getting a court to consider the case on the merits.
Bob Rush, a plaintiff and attorney for plaintiffs in the earlier case, filed the lawsuit on behalf of Duff because a Polk County District Court dismissed the first suit. The judge determined attorneys, state legislators, and members of the State Judicial Nominating Commission lacked standing to challenge the law. Six out of seven Iowa Supreme Court justices will soon hear plaintiffs’ appeal of that dismissal.
Duff claims standing on the grounds that he “will suffer irreparable injury and will continue to suffer real and immediate threat of irreparable injury as a result of the existence, operation, enforcement and threat of enforcement of the challenged sections of Senate File 638.” He applied for a vacancy on the Iowa Court of Appeals in July and interviewed with the newly-composed State Judicial Nominating Commission.
Senate File 638 gave Governor Kim Reynolds a ninth appointee to that commission, allowing Republican attorney Dan Huitink to take the place of the Iowa Supreme Court justice with the second-most seniority (currently David Wiggins). Duff was not among the nominees the commission forwarded to the governor.
Appendix: Initial court filing in Thomas Duff’s lawsuit challenging the validity of Senate File 638