# State Judicial Nominating Commission

There's conservative, and then there's incompetent

Governor Terry Branstad doesn’t care for our state’s merit selection process for nominating judges. He would prefer to nominate whomever he wants, subject to confirmation by the Iowa Senate, instead of being forced to appoint judges from short lists drawn up by the State Judicial Nominating Commission. But changing that procedure would require amending the Iowa Constitution, a lengthy process for which there is no support in the Iowa Senate. Branstad has moved to “correct” an imbalance by appointing Republicans to the State Judicial Nominating Commission. (Conservatives have long charged that Democrats came to dominate that commission under Governors Tom Vilsack and Chet Culver.)

Putting conservatives in a position to select judges is one thing, but is it too much to ask the governor to pick people with a clue about separation of church and state? Ryan J. Foley of the Associated Press reports today that Scott Bailey, a 2012 Branstad appointee, asked Assistant Iowa Attorney General Jeanie Vaudt during a public interview, “Did you make covenant vows with your husband, and do you feel you have or that you are breaking those in this situation?” Excerpts from Foley’s report are after the jump.

Judicial Nominating Commission members aren’t supposed to inquire about applicants’ marital status at all, let alone ask whether they are adhering to a “covenant” marriage. Vaudt was one of 22 applicants for a vacancy on the Iowa Court of Appeals and made the short list of three forwarded to Branstad last week.

Traditionally, the governor’s appointees to judicial nominating commissions are non-lawyers. Branstad ought to insist on non-lawyers with some clue about how the judicial system works. Red flags were there from the beginning with Bailey, a leader of the “Christ-centered” Network of Iowa Christian Home Educators who admitted on his own application that he would like “to help identify qualified candidates who will judge without partiality and uphold both civil and natural law.” Unfortunately, Bailey has been confirmed to serve on this commission through the end of January 2018. Here’s hoping that Branstad will be more discerning next time he fills a vacancy on the commission.

UPDATE: Radio Iowa posted the audio of Vaudt’s opening statement and Bailey’s question. Bailey commented to O.Kay Henderson, “I was happy that she and her husband were unified on this and it wasn’t causing a disturbance to their marriage.” Not a factor he needs to consider.

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Rejected Branstad nominee lands state education job

The Democratic-controlled Iowa Senate has rejected only two of Governor Terry Branstad’s nominees this year. One of them, former Department of Human Rights Director Isaiah McGee, started a new job Friday as education program consultant for achievement gaps and student equity at the Iowa Department of Education. Controversy surrounding McGee’s instructions to Human Rights staff and members of certain state commissions hurt the nominee with Senate Democrats. He fell a few votes short of confirmation. McGee stayed in his position at Human Rights until today; state law allows rejected nominees to keep serving for 60 days after the failed confirmation vote. State Department of Education Director Jason Glass “sought out” and offered McGee his new job as a program consultant, Branstad told journalists today. Glass commented,

“I am excited Isaiah will be joining us, because he has numerous talents and knowledge that will benefit the people of Iowa,” Glass said. “He is the exact right person for this job, as we need to continually serve the needs of all students in Iowa. Isaiah is passionate about education and will offer thoughtful solutions to the challenges we face in our educational system, and work to see those solutions through.”

Branstad hasn’t named a permanent director for the Department of Human Rights. Today he appointed Danielle Plogmann as interim director. She handled communications for the Republican Party of Iowa during the 2010 election cycle and early this year, until McGee hired her in March to be his executive assistant. Speaking to reporters today, Branstad twice described Plogmann as “loyal”:

“She has worked there, in the department, and I wanted to have somebody that I thought was loyal and somebody that I thought would work well with everybody.” […]

Branstad is interviewing candidates to take over as the director of the Department of Human Rights and he does not anticipate that Plogmann will be more than a temporary agency chief.

“I think this will be fairly short term,” Branstad said. “But I think she is somebody that I think is loyal and competant and can do the job in the short term and we will have a permanent director named in the near future.”

I’m not clear on what Plogmann’s loyalty (to the governor? to McGee’s vision? to Republican values?) has to do with managing the Department of Human Rights. I hope Branstad appoints a permanent director with a bit more relevant experience.

In related news, this week the governor named Michael Mullins to the Iowa Court of Appeals. Mullins is a registered Republican and has served as a District Court judge since 2002. He replaces Edward Mansfield, whom Branstad appointed to the Iowa Supreme Court in February. Mullins was also on the short list of Iowa Supreme Court candidates the State Judicial Nominating Commission sent to the governor.

Incidentally, one of Branstad’s appointees to the State Judicial Nominating Commission was the other person Iowa Senate Democrats declined to confirm. Branstad’s replacement pick for that position was Jim Kersten, whom the Senate unanimously confirmed last month. A Fort Dodge native, Kertsen served as a Republican member of the Iowa House and Iowa Senate and also as an assistant to Branstad during his earlier tenure as governor. Kersten currently works as Associate Vice President of Development and Government Relations at Iowa Central Community College in Fort Dodge. He recently was one of seven heavy-hitting Iowa Republicans who flew to New Jersey to encourage Governor Chris Christie to run for president.

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