Judicial selection in Iowa
|Judicial selection in Iowa|
|Iowa Supreme Court|
|Iowa Court of Appeals|
|Iowa District Courts|
Selection of state court judges in Iowa occurs largely the same across the appellate and trial courts. All judges are chosen through gubernatorial appointment with a nominating commission (also referred to as the Missouri Plan) and must run in a yes-no retention election if they wish to serve again. Term lengths vary, as does the process for selecting the chief justice or judge.
Per the Iowa Constitution, retained judges' terms begin on January 1 after their retention election.
Supreme Court, Court of Appeals and District Courts
- See also: Merit selection
Judges of the Iowa Supreme Court, Iowa Court of Appeals and Iowa District Courts are all appointed by the governor with help from a nominating commission. When a vacancy occurs on one of the courts, the commission submits a list of three potential nominees to the governor, who appoints one to serve as judge. Newly appointed judges serve for one year after their appointment; they must then compete in a yes-no retention election (occurring during the regularly scheduled general election) if they wish to continue serving. To read more about these elections, visit Judgepedia's Iowa judicial elections page.
The table below shows other similarities across the courts, as well as some subtle differences:
|Supreme Court||Court of Appeals||District Courts|
|Selection:||Assisted appointment||Assisted appointment||Assisted appointment|
|Initial term length:||At least 1 year||At least 1 year||At least 1 year|
|Re-election method:||Retention election||Retention election||Retention election|
|Term length after retention:||8 years||6 years||6 years|
|Qualifications:||Licensed to practice law in the state; member of Iowa bar; resident of state; under the age of 72*||Licensed to practice law in the state; member of Iowa bar; resident of state; under the age of 72*||Licensed to practice law in the state; member of Iowa bar; resident of district; under the age of 72*|
|Selection of chief justice/judge:||Peer vote||Peer vote||Selected by the Iowa Supreme Court|
|Chief term length:||8 years||2 years||2 years|
|*Retirement at 72 is mandatory, though older judges may apply to become a senior judge. Senior judges must work a minimum of 13 weeks a year and are to receive a monthly retirement annuity and an annual stipend. They must retire at age 78 (or 80, if reappointed by the supreme court for additional one-year terms).|
Limited jurisdiction courts
With the Unified Trial Court Act of 1973, the district court became Iowa's sole trial court. The court took the place of over 500 justice of the peace courts, 899 mayor's courts, 14 municipal courts and 34 police courts. The unified district courts are governed by district judges, district associate judges, associate juvenile judges, associate probate judges and juvenile magistrates.
Judicial nominating commissions
Iowa's judicial nominating commissions serve to identify potential candidates to fill judicial vacancies. Within sixty days of receiving notice of the vacancy from the secretary of state, a commission must forward the names of three nominees to the Iowa governor, who will appoint one to the court.
One commission exists to nominate candidates for the supreme court and court of appeals; fourteen other commissions exist to serve the district courts (one commission per district).
Iowa is relatively unique in that it actively seeks citizen participation in the nomination process. Citizens wishing to nominate a potential judge are asked to submit the candidates' names in writing, along with their opinion of them.
|Iowa is one of twenty-one states in which the Chief Justice is elected by other justices.|
The appellate courts' commission consists of fifteen members:
- One chairperson (the senior associate justice of the Iowa Supreme Court);
- One elected member from each of the state's seven congressional districts (chosen by resident members of the bar who are local to each district); and
- One appointed member from each of the state's seven congressional districts (chosen by the governor with Iowa Senate confirmation).
The district courts' commissions each consist of eleven members:
- One chairperson (the senior judge of each district);
- Five members appointed by the governor; and
- Five members elected by the bar.
To promote gender balance on the commission, each congressional district must alternate between selecting male and female commissioners, and the governor may not appoint more than four members of the same gender to the appellate court commission. District commissions follow similar guidelines: the bar must alternate between electing male and female commissioners, and the governor may not appoint more than three members of the same gender.
Judicial selection methods in Iowa have undergone several changes in the last two centuries. Below is a timeline noting the various stages, from the most recent to the earliest.
- 2007: The number of candidates to be submitted by the nominating commission was reduced to three.
- 1976: The Iowa Court of Appeals was established, with judges to serve six-year terms.
- 1973: The Unified Trial Court Act of 1973 established a unified district court that abolished more than 500 justice of the peace courts, 899 mayor’s courts, 14 municipal courts, and 34 police courts. Additionally, the commission on judicial qualifications was created to investigate judicial misconduct complaints.
- 1962: Established that all judges are to be chosen through merit selection.
- 1915: Established that municipal court judges are to be elected by popular vote to four-year terms.
- 1876: Established that superior court judges are to be elected by popular vote to four-year terms.
- 1868: A circuit court was created to handle all probate and minor civil and criminal matters. These judges are to be elected by popular vote to four-year terms.
- 1857: Established that supreme court justices are to be elected by popular vote. The term length of district court judges was reduced to four-year terms.
- 1846: Iowa's original constitution, the Iowa Supreme Court and Iowa District Courts were created, with judges elected to six and five-year terms, respectively.
Selection of federal judges
United States district court judges, who are selected from each state, go through a different selection process than that of state judges.
The district courts are served by Article III federal judges who are appointed for life, during "good behavior." They are usually first recommended by senators (or members of the House, occasionally). The President of the United States of America nominates judges, who must then be confirmed by the United States Senate in accordance with Article III of the United States Constitution.
|Step||Candidacy Proceeds||Candidacy Halts|
|1. Recommendation made by Congress member to the President||President nominates to Senate Judiciary Committee||President declines nomination|
|2. Senate Judiciary Committee interviews candidate||Sends candidate to Senate for confirmation||Returns candidate to President, who may re-nominate to committee|
|3. Senate votes on candidate confirmation||Candidate becomes federal judge||Candidate does not receive judgeship|
- Official website of the Iowa Judicial Branch
- Iowa Secretary of State, "Election Results and Data"
- Des Moines Register, "Remaining four justices could face ouster efforts," November 6, 2010
- American Judicature Society, "Methods of Judicial Selection: Iowa," archived October 2, 2014
- Legislative Services Agency, "Judicial Retirement System," July 2013
- American Judicature Society, "Methods of Judicial Selection: Iowa; Limited Jurisdiction Courts," archived December 3, 2011
- American Judicature Society, "Judicial Nominating Commissions," archived December 3, 2011
- State of Iowa, "Nomination," accessed July 18, 2014
- American Judicature Society, "History of Reform Efforts: Iowa; Formal Changes Since Inception," archived December 3, 2011
- US Courts, "FAQ: Federal Judges," accessed March 26, 2015