Iowa Judicial Nominating Commission

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Judicial selection in the states
Judicial selection in Iowa
Seal of Iowa.png
Iowa Supreme Court
Method:   nomination by commission, Gubernatorial appointment
Term:   8 years
Iowa Court of Appeals
Method:   nomination by commission, Gubernatorial appointment
Term:   2 years
Iowa District Courts
Method:   nomination by commission, Gubernatorial appointment
Term:   2 years

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.


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.[1]

Until 2010, a sitting judge had never lost a retention election. However, during the November 2, 2010 election, three sitting Supreme Court justices: Marsha Ternus, David Baker and Michael Streit, were voted out of office.[2] Although no other Iowa judges were voted out of office during the 2010 election, some 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 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.[2]

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 since judges serving on the Iowa Supreme Court and Iowa 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 likely be more able to assess the qualifications of a candidate for judge than an average citizen.[3]

The Iowa Code of Judicial Conduct, a code of ethics for judges, was approved by the Iowa Supreme Court in 1973. The legislature created a 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, was set up to investigate and evaluate complaints about judges.

How judges are selected

The goal of commission-based selection in Iowa is to promote confidence in the judiciary and remove partisan politics from the judicial selection process. In accordance with the amendment, the commission evaluates candidates who apply for a vacancy. Once all applications are reviewed, the commission then chooses three nominees and submits the 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 list provided to the Governor.

One year after appointment and again at the end of their term of office, judges and justices stand for retention in office at the general election. Citizens have the opportunity to vote whether or not a judge is retained. After being appointed and serving at least one year, judges then face retention elections. If they are retained, they will serve a term of between 6 and 8 years and must be re-elected at the end of each term.[1]

Commission members

The nominating commission consists of fifteen members, with the majority being lawyers. The commission includes seven appointed members, 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 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 longest serving justice on the Iowa Supreme Court (who is not the chief justice).

Members serve on the commission for six years. They are not able to serve a second term.

See also

External links


IowaIowa Supreme CourtIowa Court of AppealsIowa district courtsUnited States District Court for the Northern District of IowaUnited States District Court for the Southern District of IowaUnited States bankruptcy court, Northern District of IowaUnited States bankruptcy court, Southern District of IowaUnited States Court of Appeals for the Eighth CircuitIowa countiesIowa judicial newsIowa judicial electionsJudicial selection in IowaIowaTemplate.jpg