Iowa’s Crazy Judges, Part II

by Gary Marx

In Part I of this post, I brought attention to Iowa Chief Justice Mark Cady’s statement that Iowa’s version of the Missouri Plan is “the best method in the nation to select its judges.” I promised to use this post to shed light on the players who probably agree with Cady’s assessment.

The Missouri Plan is not, as its proponents frequently argue, the least political method of choosing state judges. To the contrary, it is a deeply political method with glaring design defects. Specifically, by placing the power to nominate judges in the hands of an “independent” commission dominated by lawyers, it removes accountability and transparency from the judicial selection process, and tilts state courts in the direction of favored liberal special groups who have enormous financial and ideological interests in shaping the law. So who would support such a scheme?

George Soros. According to the American Justice Partnership’s examination of IRS records, George Soros has made more than $45 million in grants through his Open Society Institute to promote the Missouri Plan. Is Soros a dumb investor? I don’t think so.

Trial Lawyers. In Iowa, three of the supreme court’s current members (Justices Wiggins, Hecht, and Appel) are former members of the Iowa Trial Lawyers Association (Wiggins and Hecht are past presidents). Justice Baker, who was one of the justices to lose his retention race, was also a member of the Iowa Trial Lawyers Association. In Missouri, two of the seven members of the state’s supreme court nominating commission have been governors of the Missouri Association of Trial Attorneys and a third is married to a trial lawyer who belongs to the Million Dollar Advocates Forum. The Million Dollar Advocates Forum advertises itself as “one of the most prestigious groups of trial lawyers in the United States” that limits membership to “attorneys who have won million and multi-million dollar verdicts and settlements.”

Democratic Politicians. According to a study by Vanderbilt law professor Brian Fitzpatrick, 67 percent of appellate nominees in Tennessee dating back to 1995 had voted in Democratic primaries, compared to only 33 percent in Republican primaries. In Missouri, 87 percent of the nominees who donated had donated primarily to Democrats, while only 13 percent gave primarily to Republicans. The amount of money contributed by judicial nominees was skewed 93 percent to Democrats and only 7 percent to Republicans. Again, these are the results in states that had Republican and Democratic governors, and where the voters themselves were far less committed to a single party over the same time period. So it’s a farce to say that this method of selection is the “least political.”

In short, the method that Chief Justice Cady believes is the “best in the nation” is actually the best in the nation for liberal special interest groups who view the judiciary as the ideal vehicle for advancing their agenda.