Iowa Judicial Nominating Commission
The Iowa Judicial Nominating Commission handles the nomination and appointment of new Supreme Court, Court of Appeals and district court judges under the Missouri Plan. The goal of the commission-based selection in Iowa is to promote confidence in the judiciary and remove partisan politics from the judicial selection process.
The commission evaluates each candidate who applies for a vacancy. These vacancies are made known to the public, who can submit names for consideration via a written statement. Once all applicants are reviewed, the commission then chooses the three most qualified to be judges and submits a list to the governor. If the governor fails to make an appointment from the list within 30 days, the chief justice of the supreme court may make the appointment from the same list provided to the governor. One year after appointment and again at the end of their term of office, judges must stand for retention at the general election. Citizens then have the opportunity to weigh in on the appointed judge. If a judge is retained, he or she will serve a term of between 6 and 8 years and must be face a retention election at the end of each term.
The nominating commission consists of 15 members, with the majority being lawyers. The commission includes seven appointed members, one from each congressional district, who must be registered to vote in Iowa. These members are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Iowa State Senate. There are also seven attorney members, also one from each congressional district, who are elected to the commission by resident members of the Iowa State Bar. The final member of the committee, who also serves as the chair, is the senior associate justice on the Iowa Supreme Court. Members serve one term of six years; second terms are not permitted.
For purposes of selecting commission members, Iowa uses the congressional districting that was in place in 1969; in that year, Iowa had seven districts, while it now has only five.
A list of current commission members is not available on the Iowa Judicial Branch website as of April 2015.
In 1962, the people of Iowa approved a constitutional amendment that established a merit retention system for the selection of Supreme Court, Court of Appeals and district court judges. Before that time, judges in the state were elected. The Iowa Judicial Nominating Commission was created to nominate qualified judicial candidates, with the governor making an appointment from a list of recommendations made by the commission.
Until 2010, a sitting judge had never lost a retention election. However, during the November election in 2010, three sitting Supreme Court justices, Marsha Ternus, David Baker and Michael Streit, were voted out of office. Although no other Iowa judges were voted out of office that year, people who follow national judicial elections expressed concern that money from out-of-state special interest groups may have influenced the outcome of the election. The previous year, the Iowa Supreme Court had issued a decision which held that the government had no compelling interest to deny marriage licenses to people because of their sexual orientation. Groups from outside the state, who opposed the ruling, immediately mounted a campaign to oust the justices facing a retention vote in 2010. The three sitting Supreme Court justices who were voted out of office continued to voice support for Iowa's judicial selection system, including retention elections.
A 2011 lawsuit, filed in federal court, alleged Iowa's method of electing attorney members to the state's judicial nominating commission violated the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution. However, the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals ultimately rejected this constitutional challenge. The court found that because judges serving on the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals are required to be members of the Iowa Bar, allowing attorneys to elect attorney members served a legitimate state interest. The court determined attorneys would more likely be able to assess the qualifications of a judicial candidate than an average citizen.
The Iowa Code of Judicial Conduct, a code of ethics for judges, was approved by the Iowa Supreme Court in 1973. The legislature created the seven-member Commission on Judicial Qualifications the same year. The commission, which was approved by voters through an amendment to the Iowa Constitution in 1972, is tasked with investigating and evaluating complaints about judges.
- Iowa Judicial Branch website
- Iowa Judicial Nominating Commission
- Iowa Judicial Qualifications Commission
- Iowa Code of Judicial Conduct
- Iowa Judicial Register
- www.judicialselection.com, "Methods of Judicial Selection: Iowa," accessed December 30, 2013
- National Center for State Courts, "Methods of Judicial Selection: Iowa," accessed April 28, 2015
- ABA Journal, "Judging the Judges: Landmark Iowa elections end tremor through the judicial retention system," January 1, 2011
- On Brief: Iowa's Appellate Blog, "Eight Circuit rejects constitutional challenge to Iowa's judicial-selection method," April 9, 2012