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Judicial Selection Process Survives 8th Circuit Appeal

By Tanya Roth, Esq. on April 11, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

On Monday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit upheld the dismissal of a lawsuit challenging the way judges are vetted in the state of Iowa.

The lawsuit, which was brought by four Iowa residents, challenged the composition of the Judicial Nominating Commission at the time when the commission was vetting applicants for judgeships.

The four plaintiffs, Steve Carlson, Mary Graznow, Richard Kettels, and William Ramsey, invoked the Fourteenth Amendment, citing that their right to equal protection had been violated. The issue, the plaintiffs said, was that the vetting process gave a disproportionately large share of influence to lawyers.

Specifically, the plaintiffs challenged the constitutional amendment that allowed members of the Iowa Bar Association to elect 7 of the 15 commissioners, thereby isolating ordinary citizens from selecting those 7 commissioners.

Last year, the lawsuit was dismissed by the U.S. District Court. The decision allowed the panel to continue as it had been acting in recommending finalists to the Governor.

The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the District Court. In applying the rational basis test, the court of appeals claimed that the current process, which allowed members of the bar to select the judicial candidates, did not violate the rights of non-lawyers. As such, the current law was rationally related to Iowa's legitimate government interests.

Lawyers, the court said, had greater deference as they would be more familiar with the judicial candidates than members of the general public would be.

The Eighth Circuit concluded that the Iowa law made sense, and affirmed the District Court decision denying injunctive relief to the plaintiffs.

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