by Nick Mueller
On April 9, 2012 the Eighth Circuit dismissed a case brought by four Iowa voters challenging the constitutionality of the process for the selection of members of the State Judicial Nominating Commission, the commission that selects candidates for the Governor to nominate to the Iowa Supreme Court. The issue in contention was that seven of the commission’s 15 members are required to be Iowa attorneys and that these attorneys are voted on not by the general public but by members of the Iowa bar. The voters bringing the suit claimed that allowing only attorneys to vote, as opposed to the general public, violates the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment.
In deciding this case the court made a number of important legal findings. It found that the commission served a “special and limited purpose” as opposed to performing “general governmental functions” such as taxing or issuing bonds. It also found that, while the decisions of these members will affect all Iowans, they particularly affect attorneys in unique and amplified ways. Having made these two findings they deem this election a “special interest election,” and under U.S. Supreme Court precedent, participation in such elections are reviewed with a lower level of scrutiny. Instead of invoking the familiar “one person, one vote” standard, they ruled that as long as the selection process for commission members had a rational relationship to a legitimate government interest, then the process was constitutional.
The court then held that the State of Iowa “undoubtedly… has a legitimate interest in selecting the most highly qualified candidates.” Further they recognized that lawyers are uniquely suited to ascertain the qualifications of their fellow members of the bar. Therefore, the court held that this process, as it is outlined in the Iowa Constitution as amended by the people of Iowa, does not violate the Equal Protection Clause, and they dismissed the case.
For more information see the Des Moines Register.
Nick Mueller is a third-year law student at William & Mary.