The state judicial nominating commission heard from 16 people Monday as they started the public interviews of the 60 candidates for the three open positions on the Iowa Supreme Court. The positions came open on the court when three justices were thrown out in the retention election in November, and in the wake of the gay marriage ruling.
Many of the questions from the commission covered issues of how the court should deal with the law and public opinion. The candidates each took different approaches to presenting themselves. Fifty-nine-year-old William Talbot of Ames is an attorney in private practice, but told the commission he has much more experience beyond his law career.
Talbot says a young man he was employed in farm labor, factory labor, carpentry, mechanics, and he has been employed as a cowboy, a truck driver, a gas station attendant and a grease monkey. “These skills have served me well, and they provided the financial resources for me to attend the University of Northern Iowa, and then in later years, Drake University Law School,” Talbot said.
Talbot says he would use his overall experience as a Supreme Court judge, and talked about several issues he sees that need to be addressed. He says the number one issue and most daunting is the budget, as he says it will permeate everything the court does. Talbot says the second task he sees that needs immediate attention is the need to enhance the relationship between the public and the bar association. And he also talked about the need to improve the relationship between the bench and the clerks of court and court reporters.
Fayette attorney, David Hanson, told the commission he sees the need to rebuild the public trust in the court system. “A feature of the court that people do not understand, we speak of an independent judiciary — and that is good thing,” Hanson says, “the problem is that when people hear it, they tend to use an application of that word that doesn’t mean what we mean it as lawyers. But rather people think that you’re autonomous, unaccountable, or doing what you want to do.”
Hanson says he tells people that is not the purpose of an independent judiciary. Hanson, who is 59, was asked about public opinion and its impact on court rulings. Justice David Wiggins, the chair of the commission, asked Hanson if the U.S. and state constitutions should be interpreted differently because they were written at different times.
Hanson replied that the two may be applied differently, but they do not need to be interpreted differently, as he says if they need to be changed, the amendment process exists. He says we should stick to that change process because it shows limited restraint of the branches of government.
On another issue, West Des Moines attorney Rebecca Parrish-Sams was asked if the commission should consider her and other female candidates as there is currently not a woman on the high court. Parrish-Sams says she wouldn’t advocate for a candidate just because they are a woman, but she says the court needs a balance.
Parrish-Sams says she doesn’t know that there is a magic formula that the commission should be looking at and says she doesn’t think gender is the only issue of balance that should be considered. “But I do believe that balance is important. It is especially important right now as we try to regain the trust in our judiciary,” Parrish-Sams explained.
Parrish-Sam, who is 39, described herself as a “soccer mom,” and said that was one of the reasons she should be considered for the position. She was asked what she meant by that, and replied that is part of her overall life experience.
“So when I say I am a soccer mom, that doesn’t mean that I take my kids to soccer,” Parrish-Sams says,”it just that I am actively involved in my children’s lives and I understand that women who come before the court, children who come before the court, and of course fathers who come before the court, there is a whole dynamic there that I am sensitive to. And that’s part of empathy, that’s part of patience.”
The interviews of the candidates will continue through Thursday. You can find out more information about the candidates or see a link to view the interviews on-line at the courts website: www.iowacourts.org.