Iowa: bill removes bar-elected members of judicial nominating commissions, but fails to amend state’s constitutional provision in this area

Iowa’s merit/commission system for judicial selection is based on 3 nominating commissions: a State Nominating Commission for appellate courts, various District Nominating Commissions for District Court judges, and County Magistrate Appointing Commissions for district associate judges, associate juvenile or probate judges, and magistrates. All have the same basic structure as set out (at least for the State and District commission) in the state’s constitution (Art. V, Sec. 16) but subject to statutory changes (“unless otherwise provided by law” as Art. V, Sec. 16 puts it).

  • members of the bar “elected by the resident members of the bar” of the state, judicial district, or county
  • non-lawyers appointed by the governor (subject to senate confirmation for the State Nominating Commission) or the local Board of Supervisors
  • a chair who is a judge

Now a bill in the Iowa legislature would remove the power of the bar to elect Commission members and instead require they be elected by the registered voters in their respective districts/counties, but without amending the constitution.

Under HF 173 the existing lawyer-elected members would be forced out of their seats this year and replaced with individuals elected by voters this November.

Past efforts to change the power of the state’s attorneys with respect to the commissions have focused on diluting their votes. The last such effort was in 2011, when both HF 343 and HF 416 would have made the members elected by attorneys non-voting advisory commissioners. In addition a constitutional amendment was offered up that year (SJR 13) to end the merit/commission system outright for the Supreme Court and replace with contested elections.

HF 173 has been filed in the House Judiciary Committee.