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Power Grab: GOP Lawmakers Plan to Inject Politics in Iowa Courts

February 5, 2019 11:13 am by: Category: 2019 Session Information, Featured, Recent News Leave a comment A+ / A-

Iowa judges are selected using a merit selection process. A nonpartisan commission nominates qualified individuals to fill each judicial selection. Judicial nominees are then chosen from these merit based nominations from the commissions.

Judicial nominating commissions are required by Iowa’s Constitution. In 1962, the state Constitution was updated to require vacancies in the Supreme Court and District Court to be filled from lists of nominees submitted by a judicial nominating commission. Three nominees must be submitted for each Supreme Court nominee and two nominees must be submitted for each district court vacancy.

Supreme Court justices and court of appeals justices are nominated by the state judicial nominating commission, which is made up of 17 members.

The state commission is composed of eight lawyers elected by fellow lawyers in the state, eight members appointed by the governor with Senate confirmation, and the most senior member of the Iowa Supreme Court that is not the Chief Justice.

District court judges are nominated by district nominating commissions. Each of the 14 judicial districts have separate 11 member nominating commissions.
The commissions must maintain gender balance, but there is no requirement for partisan balance of the commissioners.

Currently, Governor Kim Reynolds has only appointed Republicans to the state and district commissions. Of the 68 appointments made by the Governor, 65 are held by Republicans and 3 are held by no parties.

Judges in the state must also be retained through regular elections. Judges do not have opponents in these retention elections. In a retention election, judges must receive a majority of “yes” votes for retention to continue serving. If a judge receives a majority of “no” votes in the retention election the judge is removed from office at the end of the year.

Iowa’s Judicial Nominating Process is not political…

According to the Iowa Judicial Branch, Iowa’s method of nonpartisan, merit based selection of judges is intended to limit the influence of special interest groups and political parties on the selection of Iowa’s judges.

The Committee for Economic Development (CED) of the Conference Board, a nonprofit, nonpartisan, business-led policy organization, recommended that states should create a commission-based appointment process. The Commissions should be independent and nonpartisan and should created a list of judicial appointments to be made by a state’s governor. The recommendation from CED is process already used by Iowa.

Iowa’s judicial system has also consistently ranked as one of the best in the country. The U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform, an affiliate of the US Chamber of Commerce, ranks the impartiality of Iowa judges 9th overall in the country. Iowa’s courts were ranked 13th overall in 2017. That ranking marked the first time Iowa had fallen out of the top 10 overall since at least 2002.

Currently there is one vacant membership on the state judicial nominating commission. Of the seats that are currently held, every seat is currently held by a Republican.

Of the seats currently held on district judicial nominating commissions, not a single governor appointed seat is held by a Democrat. 65 of the seats are held by Republicans and 3 of the seats are held by Independents. Members of the commissions serve 6 year terms.

In 2019, House Study Bill 110 was introduced by the Republican Judiciary Committee Chairman. The bill repeals the selection of members of the State and District Judicial Nominating Commissions by the nonpartisan State Bar Association, the association of state lawyers, and instead allows partisan leadership in the Legislature to appoint those members.

Highlights on Judicial Nominations…

*Iowa’s current system is a model for the nation: fair, impartial and non-partisan

*The GOP plan is a power grab: they already control two branches of state government and now they want to control Iowa’s independent judiciary as well

*The GOP plan injects politics into the court system by letting politicians and their campaign donors select Iowa judges

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