Won: District court says Iowa gender quota is unconstitutional

Charles Hurley is a devoted father and grandfather who has spent the past 40 years serving his community as an attorney, public representative, and church member. During his time as a state representative, Charles served on Iowa’s House Judiciary Committee. His experience makes him an excellent candidate now for Iowa’s State Judicial Nominating Commission, which interviews and recommends individuals to be appointed by the governor to the Iowa Supreme Court and Court of Appeals. 

However, Charles is barred from the commission because of his gender.  

For nearly the entirety of Charles’s career, Iowa law has demanded a fixed “gender balance” that dictates how many men or women can serve on the State Judicial Nominating Commission.   The commission has 17 members, nine of whom are appointed. The other eight are elected: two members from each of Iowa’s four congressional districts.  

State law requires the two commissioners elected in each district be one male and one female. Further complicating matters is that the elections are staggered, so come election time, only one vacant seat in a district can appear on the ballot, and candidates are eligible to run only if they match the departing commissioner’s gender. 

In other words, it’s a gender quota: Men can run only for commission seats previously held by a man, and women can run only for commission seats previously held by a woman. In Charles’ case, he would be excluded from appearing on the 2025 ballot in his district simply because of his gender.  

Iowa law created a merit selection process for judicial appointments while completely forsaking merit in order to pursue gender balancing at all costs — even to the point of limiting opportunities for women across Iowa. It’s not just ironic, it’s unconstitutional. The government cannot implement gender quotas that strip opportunities for individuals like Charles, who simply wants to serve his community  

With free representation by PLF, Charles fought back, challenging Iowa’s gender quota as violating the Constitution’s equal protection guarantee.  

In January 2024, Charles won: A district court ruled that Iowa had failed to show how its sex-based classification, “a presumptively invalid state action,” survives heightened scrutiny. “[T]he Court must find that Iowa Code § 46.2(1) is a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution,” the court said. The court further ordered the State Court Administrator to cease enforcement of Iowa Code § 46.2(1) such that elections will no longer be subject to gender balancing.  

Read Pacific Legal Foundation’s report, Public Service Denied: How Discriminatory Mandates Prevent Qualified Individuals from Serving on Public Boards.

What’s At Stake?

  • Quotas, whether based on race or sex, are wrong because they subvert an individual’s merit, choices, and actions in favor of proportional group representation. Gender balance for its own sake routinely destroys individual opportunities.

Case Timeline

January 11, 2024
U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa
February 09, 2023
May 24, 2022
United States District Court for the Southern District of Iowa Central Division