On Tuesday afternoon, the Iowa Senate voted 32 to 17 along party lines to pass SF 237, a bill that reforms how members of Iowa’s judicial nomination commissions are selected.

In 1962, Iowa amended its Constitution to adopt a merit-based judicial selection process that calls for judicial nomination commissions. The Governor selects half of the commissioners who are then confirmed by the Senate and the other half are selected by members of the Iowa Bar from among their membership. The district and state commissions then forward judicial nominees for the Governor to choose from to appoint to district court, Iowa Court of Appeals, and Iowa Supreme Court vacancies.

It also adopted a retention election process where judges and Iowa Supreme Court justices stand for retention elections at the end of their term. (For a more detailed explanation of Iowa’s process click here.)

Senate File 237 reforms the judicial nominating process in Iowa and makes several changes to judicial nominating commissions. The bill maintains half the members of the commission are lawyers and allows the governor to appoint half and legislative leaders to select half of the membership of the commissions.  (For a detailed explanation about the Iowa House’s identical companion bill click here.)

State Senator Dan Dawson (R-Council Bluffs) offered an amendment that was adopted that would give the Iowa Supreme Court the ability to appoint by majority vote one elector who will sit on the State Judicial Nomination Commission for a term of six years.

“This topic has been a passion of mine for several years now and I’m proud this bill has passed the Iowa Senate,” State Senator Julian Garrett (R-Indianola), the floor manager for the bill, said. “This is not a Republican or Democrat issue. We have too many judges who substitute their own opinions as to what the law should be rather than what it was intended to be by those who wrote our Constitution. “

“Judges in Iowa have tremendous amounts of authority. However, for decades the public has had limited access and accountability over the process of selecting those judges. SF 237 implements several improvements to this process,” Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver (R-Ankeny) stated. “The Senate Majority has continually set out to challenge the status quo and this bill implements good changes that brings balance to our third branch of government, maintains the merit system, and increases public accountability to the judicial nomination process.”

Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds praised the bill’s passage in the Iowa Senate.

“Today’s vote by the Iowa State Senate to reform our judicial nominating system is a step forward to creating a judicial-nominating process that better reflects our state and its people. While the current process was created with good intentions, it’s now filled with backroom politics that leaves the vast majority of Iowans in the dark. Our new system will allow the people of Iowa to have a greater voice in selecting judges while also keeping in place the best parts of our judicial selection process,” she said in a released statement.

HF 503, the Iowa House’s companion bill to SF 237, passed the House Judiciary Committee and survived the first funnel week.

Photo credit: Ctjf83 via Wikimedia Commons (CC-By-SA 3.0)

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