April 20, 2014

Supreme Court openings draw 61 applicants

Two former U.S. Attorneys and the former state drug czar are among the 61 people who have applied to fill the spots of the three Iowa Supreme Court justices who were voted out of office in November.

Former northern district U.S. Attorney Matt Dummermuth and his former southern district counterpart Matt Whittaker have applied for the job. Both are Republicans who left their posts after Democrat President Barrack Obama was elected.

Gary Kendell was replaced in his job as director of the Governor’s Office of Drug Control Policy by governor elect Terry Branstad, and is now seeking a position on the high court. Court administrator, David Boyd, says the nominating commission will begin meeting January 24th to interview the applicants.

“The commission is trying something new, trying to bring a little transparency to the process, trying to re-instill confidence in the selection process and so… the interviews of the candidates will be public, they’ll be in the Supreme Court Courtroom on the fourth floor of the judicial branch building,” Boyd says. You will also be able to see the interviews via the internet.

Boyd says the commission will continue its practice of accepting written comments on any of the applicants now that they have been identified. He says anyone with comments, in the form of a letter or recommendation, or a general comment about one or all of the candidates can send the comments to his office via e-mail or regular mail.

You can find out where to send your comments and how to view the hearings on the court system website at: www.iowacourts.gov. Once the interviews are completed, the commission will weed the 61 down to nine finalists.

Boyd says it is going to be a tough process. “I’m glad I don’t have to vote,” Boyd said and then laughed and said “it’s a real hard job.” He says the commission will go through all the information on the candidates from their applications, writing samples, the public comments, along with the information they gained in the interviews as part of the process of determining the best candidates.

Boyd says he can’t speak to other ways the individual commissioners may determine their selections for the nominees, but he says the end goal is to pick out the best possible candidates.

Boyd says the commission always likes to leave feeling they have sent the best possible names to the governor and not care which nominee the governor chooses, as they would feel any one of them could do the job very well.

Boyd says the nine applicants who make it through the process will need to get the support of a simple majority of the commission members. He says since there are 15 members, it will require the vote of eight commissioners to be selected.

“Obviously in this situation the voting could take some time to eventually arrive at a list of nine names,” Boyd says. The youngest applicant is 34-years-old, while the oldest is 61.

Boyd says the youngest justice appointed to the court is believed to be George Wright, who began serving at the age of 35 in 1850. Boyd says in recent history, Justice Linda Neuman was appointed to the court in 1986 at the age of 38. Nueman was the first woman appointed to the court, and served for 17 years.

You can see the complete list of applicants on the courts website. The 15-member judicial nomination commission is composed of a chair, who is the senior justice of the Iowa Supreme Court other than the chief justice, seven lawyer commissioners elected by lawyers licensed to practice law in Iowa and seven non-lawyer commissioners appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Iowa Senate.