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.Continue Reading...