Abby Finkenuer has embarrassed herself and Iowa Democrats by failing to do the most basic task of gathering enough signatures to get on the ballot, but she says a “partisan” Iowa judge is to blame for her historical fail.
On Monday, Polk County District Judge Scott Beattie ruled that Finkenuer didn’t qualify for June’s Democratic primary for US Senate, and Finkenuer responded by having a meltdown. She said she disagreed with the decision (fair enough) but she went beyond that, attacking the integrity of the judge.
This is exactly the type of attack on the judiciary that Democrats have been preaching against for years in Iowa. The decision came late in the evening because Judge Beattie promised to get it out before Monday so that the parties had time to appeal the ruling before ballots had to be printed. And by labeling Beattie a Republican and calling his decision “partisan,” Finkenauer was sending the message loud and clear: the judge was ruling against her only because of her politics.
Other Democrats piled on. Ross Wilburn, chair of the Iowa Democratic Party, called the judicial process a “shameful political game.” Andy Suchorski, the head of Iowa Senate Democrats’ campaign fund, claimed that because of Judge Beattie’s ruling, “our democracy is in danger.”
The Iowa Bar Association usually comes to the defense of Iowa judges when attacks like this happen. And the Iowa press are usually quick to point out that Iowa judges are selected in a so-called “merit selection process.” But not this time.
We’ve heard nothing from the Bar Association. And members of the Iowa press have fed into Finkenuer’s attack, even making it worse. Writing in the Des Moines Register, Stephen Gruber-Miller felt the need to say that “Beattie was appointed as a judge in 2018 by Gov. Kim Reynolds, a Republican.”
Unless you live under a rock, you know Governor Reynolds is a Republican. Why did the Register mention it? Last year, when Judge Robert Hanson blocked Secretary of State Paul Pate from enforcing a rule that prohibited county auditors from sending out pre-filled absentee ballot request (a Democrat-favored policy), the Register’s story said nothing about who appointed Hanson (Vilsack did) or about his history of controversial rulings.
But in this case, where it’s a Democrat on the losing end of the election battle, the Register’s editors felt the need to reinforce Finkenuer’s narrative that Judge Beattie’s decision was based on politics and not the law.
The Register wasn’t the only one. AP reporter David Pitt also felt the need to highlight who appointed Beattie.
When a case involves a politically sensitive issue, it’s common for the media to note the president who appointed a federal judge who wrote the ruling. But in Iowa, the governor can’t just appoint whomever she wants to the district court. She must select between one of two candidates that are sent to her by a nominating commission.
Judge Beattie was nominated by an 11-member commission, six of whom were Democrats. One of those Democrats is Anjie Shutts, the president of the Iowa Bar Association. But again, the liberal-leaning association hasn’t felt the need to come to Beattie’s defense, even though he scored the highest on the Bar Association’s retention survey of Polk County lawyers.
If members of the press want to provide readers with context for how a judge got to be on the bench, this is the context they should be including. It’s what they do when the roles are switched.
And if Democrats and the Iowa Bar Association want to maintain any credibility when it comes to keeping our courts free of politics, then they should denounce Finkenauer and the Iowa Democratic Party’s statements.
Or maybe we should just get rid of this “merit selection” process. Because Democrats only tout it when it suits them. And Republicans who continue to support it are just being used by Democrats. So what’s the point?
Whatever happens with Finkenuer’s appeal to the Iowa Supreme Court, never believe Iowa Democrats again when they preach about keeping politics out of the courts. They’re just trying to ensure that our courts are infused with their politics.