Reproductive rights in peril as another Iowa Supreme Court justice retires

In a landmark ruling five months ago, the Iowa Supreme Court held that a 72-hour waiting period for women seeking abortions violates the rights to due process and equal protection under the Iowa Constitution.

This summer Governor Kim Reynolds replaced Bruce Zager, one of the justices who joined that 5-2 majority opinion. She will soon replace a second justice who concurred. Daryl Hecht announced today that he will resign from the Iowa Supreme Court in December in order "to commit all of his energy" to battling melanoma.

Governor Tom Vilsack appointed Hecht to the Iowa Court of Appeals in 1999 and to the Supreme Court in 2006. Along with fellow Vilsack appointees David Wiggins and Brent Appel, Hecht is considered part of the high court's liberal wing. In many non-unanimous decisions over the past eight years, Hecht, Wiggins, and Appel have landed on one side, with Governor Terry Branstad's 2011 appointees Zager, Thomas Waterman, and Edward Mansfield on the other side. Chief Justice Mark Cady (a Branstad appointee from 1998) has often been the swing vote determining which position informed the 4-3 majority opinion.

Under Iowa's merit-based judicial selection process, Reynolds will not have free rein in picking a new justice. Rather, the State Judicial Nominating Commission will accept applications, interview candidates, and send the governor three nominees sometime in January. Reynolds will then have 30 days to choose one of the finalists to replace Hecht.

The Iowa Bar Association names half the nominating commission members, while the governor appoints the others. CORRECTION: All attorneys who are admitted to practice law in Iowa may participate in electing members of the State Judicial Nominating Commission. For further information, see the update at the end of this post.

All eight current non-lawyer members are Republicans chosen by Branstad or Reynolds. Two are former GOP state lawmakers (Lance Horbach and Steve Sukup), and a third (Patricia Roberts) is the spouse of a former legislator (Rod Roberts).

Judicial nominating commission members typically speak informally with applicants before formal interviews, which are recorded and posted publicly. In the July formal interviews of candidates seeking to replace Zager, the panel did not ask about reproductive rights or other hot-button issues that may come before the high court. However, I consider it likely that the Republicans on the commission will seek out prospective justices with conservative political views to put on the short list.

I hope the Bleeding Heartland community will join me in sending healing thoughts to Justice Hecht, who has been a strong voice for civil rights and equality.

November 16 press release from the Iowa Judicial Branch:

Today, Iowa Supreme Court Justice Daryl Hecht, Sloan, announced his intention to resign from the supreme court December 13, 2018. Justice Hecht has been hearing oral arguments in Des Moines this adjudicative term while receiving treatment for melanoma in Sioux City and at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. The court’s adjudicative term began September 4.

Justice Hecht was unable to sit for the November 13 and 14 oral arguments due to the side effects of the treatment he is receiving. After discussions with his family, Justice Hecht determined it was essential for him to commit all of his energy to battling the disease.

Raised on a family farm near Lytton, Iowa, Justice Hecht received his bachelor’s degree from Morningside College in 1974 and his J.D. degree from the University of South Dakota in 1977. He received his L.L.M. degree from the University of Virginia Law School in 2004. Justice Hecht practiced law in Sioux City for twenty-two years before his appointment to the court of appeals in 1999 where he served until his appointment to the supreme court in 2006.

Justice Hecht is a past president of the Iowa Association for Justice. He has served as a member of the Board of Directors of the Boys and Girls Home and Family Services, the Morningside College Alumni Association, the Woodbury County Judicial Magistrate Nominating Commission, and the Woodbury County Compensation Commission. Justice Hecht served as chairperson for the Iowa Civil Justice Reform Task Force. The task force final report was presented to the Iowa Supreme Court on January 30, 2012. Justice Hecht was also involved in the study of civil justice reform at the national level. He served as a member of the Civil Justice Improvement Committee appointed by the Conference of Chief Justices.

Justice Hecht is married with two daughters and three grandchildren.

UPDATE: Caitlin Jarzen, director of governmental affairs for the Iowa Judicial Branch, informed me on November 19:

The Iowa Bar Association does not name nominating commission members. Iowa Code section 46.2 states: "The resident members of the bar of each congressional district shall elect one eligible elector of the district to the state judicial nominating commission for a six-year term beginning July 1. (emphasis added)"

It is important to note that the term "members of the bar" is not synonymous with members of the Iowa Bar Association. "Members of the bar" are attorneys admitted to practice law in Iowa. Admission to the bar, is granted by the Iowa Supreme Court, pursuant to chapter 31 of the Iowa Court Rules. On the other hand, members of the Iowa Bar Association are attorneys who opt to participate in that particular professional association.

Pursuant to Iowa Code section 46.9, the process for resident members of the bar to elect a member to the state judicial nominating commission is administered by the State Court Administrator -- not the Iowa Bar Association.

Steve Davis, communications director for the Iowa court system, added, "the lawyer members of the commission are elected by all Iowa lawyers in good standing, even those who are not members of bar association. The 14 district nominating commissions work in the same way, with lawyer members elected by all the lawyers in the district."

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