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Iowa courts once again under attack from out-of-state interests
An Indiana lawyer is the newest player involved in a war launched by social conservatives against the Iowa Judicial Branch.
James Bopp, Jr. — the Republican National Committeeman behind failed “Purity Test” and “Socialist” resolutions — filed a federal lawsuit this week in hopes of changing the judicial selection process in Iowa. The suit, filed on behalf of four state residents, charges that attorneys have too much influence in the selection process.
Currently, the process for selecting Iowa judges is begun by Judicial Nominating Commissions. The State Judicial Nominating Commission, which selects nominees for the Iowa Supreme Court and Court of Appeals, is comprised of attorneys selected through the Iowa Bar Association and members of the general public selected by the Governor’s Office and confirmed by the Iowa Senate. Commission members review applications of potential new judges, interview those making application and, ultimately, submit a short list of candidates to the governor, who has final determination on who will be selected to serve. The process has been in place in the state since voters approved it in 1962, but has recently come under scrutiny due to a 2009 Iowa Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage.
Bopp and the claimants have expressly asked that the current Iowa Bar Association members of the Judicial Nominating Commission be denied the right to vote on which applicants should be included in the short list of candidates given to the Governor’s Office as replacements for the three state Supreme Court justices ousted by voters in November.
In Bopp’s opinion, the nearly 50-year-old Iowa system provides “attorneys a stranglehold on the judiciary” while denying “ordinary voters” an equal voice.
Iowans listed as participants in the lawsuit are Steve Carlson of Woodbury County, Mary Granzow of Polk County, Richard Kettells of Polk County and William Ramsey of Black Hawk County.
Bopp, who has also worked in Iowa on behalf of a state affiliate of a national anti-abortion group and a national anti-gay organization, is hardly a newcomer to politics or lawsuits in relation to election law. A key supporter of and advisor for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney during the 2008 presidential cycle, Bopp was also a key architect of the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case, which led to the U.S. Supreme Court striking down limits on corporate spending in elections. Although he did not argue the case before SCOTUS, he represented Citizens United in its initial battle with the FEC over a documentary critical of Hillary Clinton, and the case eventually escalated before the high court.
In a Mother Jones report on Bopp issued in the wake of the Citizens United case, reporter Stephanie Mencimer says that Bopp has made a name for himself by defending corporations while using everyday people.
Part of Bopp’s genius lies in his choice of clients. Although his cases ultimately benefit powerful corporations, their public faces are usually small advocacy groups like Wisconsin Right to Life or Citizens United that are seeking to participate in political debate. Perhaps most impressive, he crafts cases that appear persuasive to people who do not share his agenda (he is a staunch conservative and member of the Republican National Committee).
Even before the final ruling on Citizens United, however, Bopp had begun new campaigns into election law and specifically chose to represent predominantly anti-gay, socially conservative groups who wished to hide the donors that funded their political activities. His firm — Bopp, Coleson and Bostrom — has represented such groups in Iowa, California and Maine, petitioning that laws which require the groups to form Political Action Committees (PACs) and disclose their donors are unconstitutional. Many anticipate that the questions presented by Bopp and his associates in such cases will also be eventually heard before the nation’s high court.
A spokesman for the Iowa Judicial Branch and attorneys currently serving on the Judicial Nominating Commissions have declined to comment on the case.