U.S. SC denies appeal in challenge over Iowa Judicial Commission

Jessica M. Karmasek Oct. 1, 2012, 12:15pm

U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts

WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) - The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to hear an appeal in a lawsuit over the Iowa Judicial Nominating Commission's makeup.

The nation's high court denied to review the case, Carlson, Steven, et al. v. Wiggins, Justice, etc., et al., according to an 88-page order list released Monday.

Plaintiffs Steven Carlson, Mary Granzow, Richard Kettells and William Ramsey -- represented by the James Madison Center for Free Speech and a group of Indiana lawyers -- filed their lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa back in December 2010.

The plaintiffs challenged sections of the Iowa Constitution and state code, arguing that the system they establish excludes Iowa voters from participation in the election of the elected attorney members of the state Judicial Nominating Commission; denies voters the right to equal participation in the selection of state Supreme Court justices; and denies them the right to vote for the elected attorney members of the commission.

The judicial commission is given the power to select the nominees for vacant positions on both the state Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals.

The governor is limited to selecting one of the commission's three nominees to fill a vacancy.

If he or she fails to make an appointment from the commission's list, the chief justice of the state Supreme Court is required to make the appointment from the list.

"Invariably, one of the three nominees selected by the Commission will become a justice or judge in Iowa, so that the Commission determines the composition of the judiciary in Iowa," the plaintiffs wrote in their 2010 complaint. "Despite having this significant power and function, seven of the 15 members of the Commission are elected exclusively by the members of the bar of Iowa.

"This restricted election denies the citizens of Iowa the right to vote and the right to participate equally in the selection of justices and judges in Iowa."

The federal court -- and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit in April -- said the current system doesn't violate voters' rights.

In July, the plaintiffs asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case.

Iowa Solicitor General Mark E. Schantz, of the state Attorney General's Office, represented the defendants in the suit.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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