Let’s get down to brass tacks. The main reason Republican lawmakers in Iowa are looking to change the way Iowa judges are selected is because they want protection for social issues like an anti-abortion bill they hope to pass this legislative session and due to the Iowa Supreme Court decision in Varnum from several years ago where the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that non-religious, civil marriage, is available to everyone. Since Varnum, special interests worked hard to oust Iowa Supreme Court justices. And now, these special interests are setting their sights on changing the process for the Judicial Nominating Commission that ultimately appoints judges in Iowa. Under the current system, Iowa lawyers elect one-half of the commissioners to the Judicial District Nominating Commissions while the governor appoints the other half of the members. Lawmakers want to change this so that lawyers no longer elect one-half of the commissioners but rather lawmakers from the political parties would nominate the other half.
Unfortunately, there is a perception on the part of some conservative lawmakers that “left-leaning” democratic lawyers control the judicial nominating commission and therefore are preventing conservative candidates from nomination. The actual facts though paint a different story. Currently, registered Republican lawyers hold the majority of positions on the Judicial Nominating Commissions. When you combine that with the fact that the last two Republican governor(s) have appointed conservatives with their appointments, 12 of the 14 Judicial District Nominating Commissions are currently controlled by registered Republicans. In the other two districts, the votes are split evenly.
But our judges should not be selected on the basis of political control. It should be based upon merit. It is about candidates who have the best qualifications, rather than the best political connections. We have long had an excellent system of justice in Iowa. Like any lawyer or the public, I do not agree with every decision issued by our judges. However, it is my belief that our judges do their best to make our court system fair and impartial. On survey after survey, Iowa courts have ranked high in judicial fairness nationally. Moreover, the positive feedback from Iowa lawyers on the Iowa State Bar Association surveys demonstrates the high quality of work performed by our justices. Even Governor Reynolds has admitted that she has had no problem with the candidates that have been brought to her. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
My partner (and current Iowa State Bar Association President) Tom Levis has an excellent letter addressing the judicial nominating commission issues. I encourage you to read it and we also encourage you to reach out to your lawmakers and let them know that we do not want our judicial system increasingly politicized. We have enough issues and problems in Washington with political squabbling. Let’s keep that out of our Iowa court system.