Living in Society

The Unraveling Fabric of Iowa Life

Shadow on a Snowy Day

Thread by thread the fabric of our lives is unraveling.

What we thought was permanent turns out to be fleeting vapors transformed to undue amounts of snow.

Everything about the unraveling is out in the open and more’s the pity.

In a press release yesterday, Governor Kim Reynolds indicated she ended her court battle regarding Iowa Code chapter 146C, otherwise known as the “fetal heartbeat law.”

“This was an extremely difficult decision, however it is the right one for the pro-life movement and the state of Iowa,” Reynolds said. “When I signed the Fetal Heartbeat bill last May, we knew that it would be an uphill fight in the courts that might take us all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.”

“I think the Iowa Supreme Court got it wrong,” she said in the release, referring to the court’s decision to strike down the 72-hour waiting period included in the law.

Republican legislators plan to do something about the court getting it wrong. They plan to increase politicization of how Iowa judges are nominated to the governor by changing the composition of commissions that make those nominations. House Study Bill 110, and its companion, Senate File 237, have been introduced to that end.

Representative Mary Wolfe (D-Clinton) explained the issue in a Feb. 18 article in the Clinton Herald.

Here’s how our current system works: there are fourteen district court judicial nominating commissions — one for each of Iowa’s fourteen judicial districts. Each district court nominating commission is made up of five local citizens appointed by the governor and five local citizen-attorneys elected by local lawyers; the district’s senior judge acts as the chairperson of the commission. When a judicial vacancy arises in a judicial district, interested attorneys from that district submit applications and the members of the local judicial nominating commission, working together, select the two most qualified candidates to “send up” to the governor; the governor then chooses one of the two attorneys to fill the vacancy.

The Iowa Supreme Court process is similar in that it blends commission members appointed by the governor and chosen by attorneys, sending three nominees to the governor.

“The current system works,” Wolfe wrote. “Iowa’s non-partisan judicial nominating process is considered one of the best in the country, and our judiciary is consistently ranked in the top ten by many organizations (including conservative organizations like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce) in terms of expertise, efficiency and objectivity.”

“Rather than be distracted by a losing legal battle,” Gov. Reynolds said in yesterday’s press release about the abortion bill. “Now is the time to renew our focus on changing hearts and minds and to seek other ways to advance the cause of protecting the unborn in Iowa and around the nation.”

Among those “other ways” is to pack the courts. If the bills were to become law, all commission members would be selected by politicians.

I sent an email to my state representative on Sunday:


I don’t support the changes Rep. Steven Holt from Denison is proposing to the judicial nominating commission and the process for how judges are selected in Iowa.

Iowa Press ran an episode on Friday with Holt and Mary Wolfe from Clinton discussing their views on the matter and Holt did not make a substantial case for changing the process.

Holt repeated himself during the program, coming back to two things: that only 18.45 percent of attorneys vote on commission members selected by attorneys and that the voice of the people needs be heard. I believe the voice of the people has been heard in establishing the current process and it should not be changed without thorough vetting and public input. Most people I know aren’t even aware the change is being discussed. Your colleague Mary Wolfe made the case why Holt’s proposal is not good for Iowa and I agree with her.

I hope you will align yourself with moderates like Wolfe on this issue.

If you haven’t seen Iowa Press this week, here is the link:

I appreciate hearing the schedule of your listening posts via email, so please keep sending the information. Thanks for your work in the legislature.

Regards, Paul

Kaufmann responded a few hours later, saying he would address judicial nominating reform in a public column in the near future. He is a member of the judiciary committee.

The simple truth is Republicans have the votes to do this and almost anything they want in the legislature. Elections have consequences and in 2018 Democrats fell short of re-taking a majority in the Iowa House and lost ground in the Senate. Republican Governor Kim Reynolds was elected for her first full term.

None of this is a hidden agenda now that the bills have been revealed. If changing the judicial nominating process was not a campaign issue in 2018 it is a legislative issue now.

Thread by thread, beginning in the 87th Iowa General Assembly, Republicans are unraveling the fabric of life in Iowa and this is just one more example. I believe this second two-year bite of the apple, the 88th Iowa General Assembly, will provide them the time they need and want to re-shape Iowa in the image of an insular group that ignores reason and would take our state backward.

Progressives, if we are to be successful, must row against the tide, never losing site of the shoreline, hoping our dreams and values hold together. On this snowy February day, under this governance, the veil of Maya wears thin.