Active: Federal lawsuit seeks to restore equality before the law in judicial selection

Rachel Raak Law is a realtor and mom of three in the western Iowa town of Correctionville. She spent six years as a gubernatorial appointee to a District Judicial Nominating Commission, which vets and recommends individuals to serve as judges on state trial courts. She also served on the Woodbury County Drug Court, the nation’s first community-panel-based “last stop” to rehabilitation for juvenile drug and alcohol offenders.

Four hundred miles to the east, in Iowa City, U.S. Marine veteran and history enthusiast Micah Broekemeier is studying at the University of Iowa to become a social studies teacher. Like Rachel, he’s very civic-minded and politically engaged. He has become involved in local politics and served on multiple committees, including a stint in which he sought out and interviewed candidates to run for public office.

Along the way, Rachel and Micah each developed a deep affinity for the judicial branch of government as the foundational safeguard of our constitutional rights. They also grew interested in the work of 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.

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. When Rachel and Micah learned the terms of two commissioners expire in June 2023—one in each of their districts—each of them wanted to run for a spot on the commission. Both are well-qualified: Rachel has directly relevant experience from her six years of picking judges for Iowa’s district courts, and Micah has interviewed and selected candidates for public service for his county.

Unfortunately, they are each the wrong gender to run in their district.

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.

Rachel is therefore ineligible to run in the next election when commissioner John Gray’s term expires because that seat is designated for a man. Under state law, Rachel can’t legally run for a commission seat in her district until 2027, when the female commissioner’s term expires.

Micah, likewise, cannot run for the seat currently held by Dorothy O’Brien when her term expires as her seat must be reserved for a woman. The earliest Micah would be eligible to run is 2025.

Iowa law created a merit selection process for judicial appointments while completely forsaking merit in favor of gender to determine who can participate. It’s not just ironic, it’s unconstitutional. The government cannot implement gender quotas that strip opportunities for individuals like Rachel and Micah, who simply want to serve their communities.

With free representation by PLF, Rachel and Micah are fighting back. Their federal lawsuit challenges Iowa’s gender quota for the State Judicial Nominating Commission as violating the Constitution’s equal protection guarantee. Their victory would ensure that the best-qualified candidates can run for office, regardless of gender.

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

February 09, 2023
May 24, 2022
United States District Court for the Southern District of Iowa Central Division