Republicans press weak case against Linn, Johnson absentee mailings

Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and four Republican Party entities filed suit on August 12, seeking to invalidate tens of thousands of absentee ballot request forms in two large, Democratic-leaning Iowa counties. The plaintiffs allege Linn County Auditor Joel Miller and Johnson County Auditor Travis Weipert committed “illegal actions” when they mailed absentee ballot request forms that were pre-printed with voters’ information.

The Republican lawsuit is heavy on political posturing but fails to lay out a convincing legal case.

Continue Reading...

Iowa Supreme Court finalists McDermott, Chicchelly, and May, in their own words

After interviewing fifteen applicants, the State Judicial Nominating Commission on March 6 agreed on three nominees for the Iowa Supreme Court: Matthew McDermott, District Court Judge Mary Chicchelly, and Iowa Court of Appeals Judge David May. Governor Kim Reynolds will appoint one of them during the next few weeks.

To the credit of the commissioners, all three finalists are well-qualified to serve. Thanks to a law Republicans enacted in 2019, commission members appointed by either Reynolds or Governor Terry Branstad now outnumber elected attorneys, meaning they had the votes to send less-experienced but politically-connected loyalists to the governor. They did not.

I’ve enclosed below highlights from each finalist’s application and interview, along with some noteworthy comments by three candidates who didn’t make it onto the short list: Brenna Bird, Alan Ostergren, and Sam Langholz.

I felt confident in January that Reynolds would appoint McDermott, because of his past work for the Republican Party of Iowa and close ties to senior GOP officials. Knowing now that the governor’s own legal counsel Langholz has ambitions to serve on the Supreme Court, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Reynolds pick a different finalist. Langholz’s job involves helping the governor interview and select judges. He has incentive to steer her toward appointing a candidate who has presided over a District Court, to improve the odds of the State Judicial Nominating Commission selecting someone who lacks that experience next time. Reynolds will get at least one more appointment to the high court, because Supreme Court Justice Brent Appel will reach the mandatory retirement age in 2022.

Continue Reading...

Four red flags about Iowa Supreme Court applicant Sam Langholz

UPDATE: The commission recommended Mary Chicchelly, David May, and Matthew McDermott. I’ve added below highlights from Langholz’s interview.

Iowa’s State Judicial Nominating Commission will interview candidates to succeed retiring Supreme Court Justice David Wiggins on March 6. The fifteen applicants include two finalists Governor Kim Reynolds passed over for the vacancy she filled last month (District Court Judge Joel Barrows and Matthew McDermott) and several who have applied for previous vacancies, such as District Court Judges Mary Chicchelly and Patrick Tott, District Associate Judge Romonda Belcher, Assistant Attorney General Molly Weber, and Muscatine County Attorney Alan Ostergren.

Three applicants have provoked anxiety in Iowa legal circles. Bleeding Heartland discussed some problematic aspects of Ostergren’s record when he applied for a Supreme Court vacancy last year. Guthrie County Attorney Brenna (Findley) Bird previously served as chief of staff for U.S. Representative Steve King and later as Governor Terry Branstad’s legal counsel. In that capacity, a jury found last year, Bird and Branstad violated the constitutional rights of former Workers’ Compensation Commissioner Chris Godfrey. While working in the Branstad administration, Bird was also involved in rushing through an effort to ban the use of telemedicine for abortions. The Iowa Supreme Court unanimously struck down that administrative rule in 2015.

The greatest concern has centered on Sam Langholz, the governor’s senior legal counsel. He is widely perceived as Reynolds’ top choice. Thanks to changes in the selection process Langholz helped engineer last year, the governor may have the votes on the State Judicial Nominating Commission to get her subordinate on Iowa’s highest court.

That would be troubling for several reasons.

Continue Reading...

The 19 Bleeding Heartland posts that were most fun to write in 2019

Before the new political year kicks off with the Iowa legislature convening and Governor Kim Reynolds laying out her agenda, I need to take care of some unfinished business from 2019.

When I reflect on my work at the end of each year, I like to take stock of not only the most popular posts published on this website and the ones I worked hardest on, but also the projects that brought me the most joy. I’ve found this exercise helps guide my editorial decisions on the many days when I have time to write up only one of several newsworthy stories.

Among the 348 posts I wrote last year, these were some of my favorites:

Continue Reading...

Why Matthew McDermott will likely be Iowa's next Supreme Court justice

UPDATE: Reynolds didn’t pick McDermott this time but appointed him to the Iowa Supreme Court in April 2020. Bleeding Heartland covered highlights from his application and interview here.

After interviewing twelve applicants, the State Judicial Nominating Commission forwarded three names to Governor Kim Reynolds on January 9 to fill the vacancy created by Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Cady’s passing in November.  Reynolds has 30 days to appoint one of the finalists, but there’s no suspense here: she will almost certainly choose Matthew McDermott.

A computer program couldn’t generate a more ideal judicial candidate for a Republican governor seeking to move Iowa courts to the right.

Continue Reading...

Ten things to know about the Iowa Supreme Court applicants

The State Judicial Nominating Commission will meet on January 30 to consider nineteen applicants seeking to replace Iowa Supreme Court Justice Daryl Hecht, who stepped down last month. The commission will then send Governor Kim Reynolds a list of three candidates, one of whom will be appointed to the high court within 30 days.

After reviewing the applications, I compiled some noteworthy facts about the contenders. One of them is not like the others.

Continue Reading...
View More...