by Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver
For the last two years, Senate Republicans moved forward reforms to help grow and improve our state. These reform-minded changes are working. Iowa boasts the lowest unemployment rate in the nation and this is in large part due to our inviting business climate. The facts are hard to dispute – our reforms are working and Iowans are working.
These successes do not occur by accident. They require careful thought, consideration and a willingness to review areas in need of updating. In some cases, legislation is passed with the caveat of being reviewed two, five, 10 years down the road – and that does not always happen. Such is the case with the current system on judicial nominations.
Iowa voters passed a Constitutional Amendment in 1962 which established the merit-based judicial selection system we presently have in place. During the ratification process, it was determined the legislature would revisit the issue in 1973 and determine if the system required any changes. 1973 came and went and 46 years later the legislature is now conducting that review.
Through this review, Senate Republicans want to ensure Iowans have a say in the nominating process and, make certain the process is fair. Under its present form, the judicial nominating commission is made up of 17 people: nine are attorneys – eight who are elected by lawyers with no government oversight and the ninth member is a senior judge; and the other eight member of the commission are citizens are selected by the governor and confirmed by the Senate.
Considering Iowa has three million people and nearly 10,000 attorneys, the present system results in lawyers having more control in electing judges. A change in the makeup of the commission would give Iowans a greater voice.
Though we are early in the process, it is not our intent to change the state constitution or the present merit-based system. Going to a system in which we elect judges is not part of our review. Simply put, we want to address and reform the unbalanced system on the judicial nominating system.
Our reform will standardize the processes for commissions across Iowa, which in turn we believe would result in an increase in the judicial applicant pool. This is better for our judicial system and better for our state.