Federal Judge Strikes Down Iowa’s Gender Balance Law on Judicial Nominating Commission

DES MOINES, Iowa — A federal judge has ruled that a decades-old Iowa law requiring gender balance on the state’s top judicial nominating commission is no longer constitutional and cannot be enforced. The law, which was implemented in the 1980s, mandates that the commission recommending candidates to fill vacancies on Iowa’s appellate courts must have an equal number of male and female members.

The decision came as a result of a lawsuit filed by attorneys from the Pacific Legal Foundation challenging the law, arguing that it violated the equal protection guarantees of the 14th Amendment. The lawsuit contended that the requirement to elect an equal number of male and female commissioners restricted the pool of potential candidates and discriminated against individuals based on their gender.

U.S. District Judge Stephanie Rose, while acknowledging that the law had served a legitimate purpose in remedying past discrimination, found that the state had failed to prove ongoing discrimination that would justify the provision. Although the percentages of women on judicial nominating commissions do not necessarily reflect the proportion of women in the general population, it was difficult to make an accurate comparison due to variations in eligibility and selection criteria across states.

The judge’s ruling permanently enjoins the state from enforcing the gender restriction. Notably, this decision only applies to the gender balance requirement for the commission’s elected members and does not directly challenge other Iowa laws mandating gender balance for state positions.

In response, attorneys from the Pacific Legal Foundation praised the court’s decision and called for the repeal of all remaining gender balance laws in Iowa. The foundation has previously successfully challenged similar laws in Minnesota and maintains that these types of quotas are unconstitutional.

It remains to be seen how this ruling will impact other states with similar gender balance requirements. The Iowa Attorney General’s Office and the Iowa Judicial Branch have not yet commented on the decision.

This ruling marks a significant development in the ongoing debate over gender balance in judicial nominations and the constitutionality of such requirements. As the legal landscape continues to evolve, the future of gender balance laws across the country may come under further scrutiny.