The Iowa Supreme Court building in Des Moines.

CEDAR RAPIDS — A group challenging the constitutionality of a new state law changing Iowa’s 57-year-old judicial nominating procedure has added a member of the state Judicial Nominating Commission as a co-plaintiff.

Eight Iowa lawmakers and Cedar Rapids lawyer Bob Rush filed the lawsuit earlier this month challenging the law, Senate File 638, that was passed in what they called a “shady deal” the final hours of the 2019 Iowa legislative session. The law changes the makeup of the state commission that vets applicants and recommends finalists for the state Supreme Court and Appeals Court so that the governor controls the most appointments.

Now the plaintiffs have added Martin Diaz of Swisher, a member of the nominating commission since 2011. His term expires June 30.

Diaz hesitated to join the lawsuit because he didn’t want to undermine his colleagues on the commission. However, he joined because if the law is unconstitutional “than I have a duty to step up and assist in testing that legality.”

Diaz, who has an Iowa City practice, also joined because it is his understanding the state planned to argue the plaintiffs did not have standing to bring the lawsuit.

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“If that is true, then the lawsuit could be dismissed on what citizens of Iowa may consider a technicality,” he said. In that case, the constitutionality of SF 638 might never be tested.

The state has not objected to adding Diaz to the lawsuit.

In challenging the law, Rush explained, the plaintiffs say lawmakers violated rules against “logrolling,” the inclusion of unrelated matters in one bill. Legislators also violated the requirement the title of a bill contain the subject matter to “prevent fraud and surprise.” There is no mention of the judicial nominating commission in the title.

Finally, the plaintiffs call the portion of SF 638 dealing with judicial nominating procedures a violation of the constitutional establishment of coequal branches of government because it changes the selection and term of office for the chief justice of the Iowa Supreme Court. The Legislature directed the court to elect a chief justice every two years. The term and selection of the chief justice is a matter for the court, not the Legislature, to decide, Rush said.

In addition to Diaz, Rush is joined in the lawsuit by Democratic state Reps. Art Staed and Liz Bennett of Cedar Rapids, Mary Mascher of Iowa City, Brian Meyer, Jo Oldson and Rock Olson of Des Moines, Mark Smith of Marshalltown and Mary Wolfe of Clinton.

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Statehouse reporter for The Courier

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