Iowa: raft of legislation attempts to curtail or end merit/commission selection of judges in state; give governor total control of voting commissioners, make lawyers nonvoting advisory members or simply remove them

I mentioned a few weeks ago an effort to remove all bar-selected members of Iowa’s judicial selection commissions. Now the latest efforts have come forward with a focus on ending merit/commission selection or allowing the governor total control over the process.

As a reminder, 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

HJR 6: end the commissions outright, move to quasi-federal system

HJR 6 as filed covers a litany of issues related to the Court of Appeals (currently a creature/creation by statute). It also, perhaps most critically, simply ends the state’s commission/merit selection system and replaces it with a quasi-federal one. Governors would nominate individuals subject to senate confirmation for Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, and District Court vacancies. It does keep the constitutional provision for yes/no retention elections.

SF 263: remove all the lawyers

Identical to HF 173 which I discussed here, it would simply remove all attorney-selected members of all 3 nominating commissions and replace them with individuals elected by the district/county affected.

SF 327: reduce lawyers to 1 nonvoting/advisory member, give governor total control of voting commissioners

With proponents arguing that lawyers have too much sway over the non-attorney members of the commissions, SF 327 reduces the number of lawyer-selected members on the State Nominating Commission and the District Nominating Commissions to 1 non-voting advisory member and gives the governor total control over the voting members.

Currently, the 17-member State Nominating Commission looks like

  • 8 members of the bar “elected by the resident members of the bar” of the state
  • 8 non-lawyers appointed by the governor subject to senate confirmation
  • 1 voting justice of the supreme court (other than the chief justice) as chair

SF 327 would completely revamp this and give the governor total control over the voting commissioners

 

  • 1 non-voting advisory member elected by the bar; sitting bar members would be converted to non-voting advisory members and phased out
  • 16 voting members (4 per congressional district) appointed by the governor subject to senate confirmation
  • 1 non-voting justice of the supreme court (other than the chief justice) as chair; the justice could vote only to break a tie

 

 

 

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