The Iowa judicial System: Merit-based Selection


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A short summary of how and why the Iowa judicial system is a merit-based system. This was for a presentation given to my breakfast club, The Consortium, in March 2011.

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The Iowa judicial System: Merit-based Selection

  1. 1. IOWA’S JUDICIAL SYSTEM Where do Judges/Justices come from?* © Victoria L. Herring, 2011 *other than their momTuesday, March 15, 2011
  2. 2. What are Courts for anyway? Dispute resolution; an alternative to fists & guns To protect individual rights by enforcing the Constitution and laws, even against the force of the majority. Balance the power of the Executive & Legislative branches of government, federal and state. Created by Constitutions and empowered by statutes Types of Courts States [Iowa]: Appellate, Trial/District, ‘lower’ [small claims, juvenile, etc.] Federal: District Courts, Circuit Courts [8th] & Supreme Court © Victoria L. Herring, 2011Tuesday, March 15, 2011
  3. 3. Why does it matter to me? what third party should decide disputes? who should sentence criminals? who should award damages or other relief? what do you want in a person selected to decide something important to you? © Victoria L. Herring, 2011Tuesday, March 15, 2011
  4. 4. How are Judges selected for the Court? In Iowa, judicial nominating commissions [lawyers elected, Gov. appointed members; both groups gender balanced] identify nominees, interview and send 3 nominees to the Governor to select from. Iowa Constitutional provision from 1962 to date - “merit selection” - Article V, Ch. 46 of Iowa Code There are 7 Supreme Court Justices, 9 Court of Appeals judges and 116 District Court judges. Gender/Racial balance? Most Iowa judges are white males; ~ 240, ~50 women incl. 2 minority females, several minority male judges. © Victoria L. Herring, 2011Tuesday, March 15, 2011
  5. 5. What other ways are there of selecting judges? Election: Partisan, Non Partisan or a mix Gubernatorial Appointment, sometimes with commission or legislative consent Legislative Appointment - American Judicature Society © Victoria L. Herring, 2011Tuesday, March 15, 2011
  6. 6. What if the judge needs to be removed, or evaluated and retained? Different states, different processes: Service to age 70 or life, no review [without cause] Service for a term and subject to retention election, gubernatorial nomination, legislative reelection Removal for cause: legislative impeachment, judicial commission inquiry and court, by the supreme court, by the Governor, by recall election © Victoria L. Herring, 2011Tuesday, March 15, 2011
  7. 7. In Iowa, how are judges removed from office? Each judge stands for a retention election at the next election after his/her taking office and every 6 or 8 years after that, to age 72. Commission on Judicial Qualifications can investigate and recommend action to Supreme Court Judges may be impeached by House & convicted by Senate © Victoria L. Herring, 2011Tuesday, March 15, 2011
  8. 8. Lawyer members Citizen appointees Judicial Nominating Commission Receives applications and conducts interviews 3 Nominees for each judgeship 30 days Governor © Victoria L. Herring, 2011Tuesday, March 15, 2011
  9. 9. Retention Election in Iowa: next general election after 1 year in office by 50% + 1 of voting public. Every 6 or 8 years after initial retention election, the judge comes up for another retention election. Must receive majority of votes, yes/no. In 2010: 3 Supreme Court justices removed and a Constitutional Convention was rejected by voters. © Victoria L. Herring, 2011Tuesday, March 15, 2011
  10. 10. What if we moved ‘back’ to an electoral selection system of campaigns for judgeships? Fundraising? Campaign finance/ethics issues Independent Judiciary? Lack of qualified candidates and judges © Victoria L. Herring, 2011Tuesday, March 15, 2011
  11. 11. Caperton v. Massey: Harman Coal was forced into bankruptcy by Massey Energy because from 1993-98 it prevented doing business. Harmon sued Massey and won $50 million from a jury in 2002. In 2004, while appealing the judgment, Massey CEO Don Blankenship spent $3 million [60% of his campaign expense] on an independent campaign to back lawyer Brent D. Benjamin’s campaign for the W.Va. Supreme Court. He won and sat on the court, refused to recuse himself and was the deciding vote in a 2007 decision overturning the verdict. In the Supreme Court this was called an exceptional case and a denial of due process. © Victoria L. Herring, 2011Tuesday, March 15, 2011
  12. 12. FURTHER RESOURCES - American Judicature Society - Justice Not Politics - Justice at Stake - Brennan Center for Justice - Iowa League of Women Voters - Iowa State Bar Association - National Center for State Courts - Iowa Judicial Branch © Victoria L. Herring, 2011Tuesday, March 15, 2011