Iowa Judicial Branch
For the Public
Pay Fines
Jury Service
Domestic Violence
Representing Yourself in Court
Court Services
Court Structure
About Judges
Fair & Impartial
Iowa Courts History
Court Brochures
Request a Speaker
Visit a Courthouse
Common Legal Terms
For Students & Teachers

Judicial Retention Elections 


 Voters Guide               

What is a judicial retention election?

Judges stand for retention election near the end of their term of office.  In a retention election, judges do not have opponents.  Instead, voters decide whether or not to retain a judge in office.  If a judge receives a simple majority of "yes" votes, the judge may serve another full term.      


Why does Iowa use judicial retention? 


In 1962, Iowa voters approved a constitutional reform that replaced the process of selecting judges by popular vote with a merit selection and retention election process.  This process promotes selection of the best qualified applicants and ensures an impartial judiciary while retaining judicial accountability and public oversight.    

What makes a good judge?


  • Integrity—honest, upright and firmly committed to the rule of law
  • Professional Competence—keen intellect, exercises good judgment, extensive legal knowledge and strong writing abilities
  • Judicial Temperament—neutral, decisive, respectful and composed
  • Experience—strong record of professional excellence
  • Service—committed to public service and the administration of justice

Is there a judicial performance evaluation?

The Iowa State Bar Association "Judicial Plebiscite" evaluates each judge on the ballot on a wide range of attributes.  The results of this evaluation are available online at one month prior to the general election.

What about a judge's personal views?

Because it is appropriate for legislators and the governor to consider public opinion and the views of special interest groups when passing laws and adopting public policy, citizens expect candidates for these offices to tell us their views about issues of public importance.   


But judges are different.    


  • It is not appropriate for a judge to consider his or her personal views or public opinion when deciding cases.  Judges must be neutral and follow the rule of law. 
  • A judge has a First Amendment right to free speech.  But if a judge announces a position on an issue the judge's impartiality may be called into question and the judge may have to decline handling cases involving that issue.
  • Judicial ethics prohibit judges from commenting about cases pending in court.  This ensures that litigants receive a fair trial.

How do I find a judge's decisions or rulings?

The published decisions of the Iowa Supreme Court and Iowa Court of Appeals are readily available online at and in libraries in a series of books called the Northwestern Reporter 2nd.  These decisions usually represent the view of the majority of judges on the court, not solely the view of the judge writing for the majority.  A judge who disagrees with the majority view will indicate his or her disagreement by a written dissent.

Locating a ruling of a trial court judge is a more difficult task because of the high volume of cases.  But if you know the name of the case or the case number you can ask the local clerk of court for a copy of a ruling. 

What about an unpopular court decision?

There are several reasons why a voter may want to consider more than the outcome of one case when deciding whether to retain a judge. 

·         Judges must follow the rule of law and sometimes this leads to unpopular results.  Under the rule of law, judicial decisions are based strictly upon the evidence presented to the court and the applicable laws set out in our statutes and constitution. 

·         If citizens disagree with a law or a judge's interpretation of a law, they can petition the legislature to change the law.

·         Over the course of a career a judge will dispose of hundreds of cases.  One case alone is not necessarily an accurate barometer of a judicial career.  

·         High-profile cases that catch the media's attention often bear little resemblance to the cases that constitute the bulk of a judge's work.  Most court cases are not reported by the media and most do not involve hot-button issues. 

·         Sometimes a higher court reverses the decision of a lower court.  Reversal by a higher court does not in itself indicate the quality of a judge's work.  Reversal could be for any number of reasons. For instance, the higher court could be ruling on an issue for the first time or the higher court could be clarifying its earlier opinions that served as precedents for lower court.



Follow us on Twitter - @IowaCourts return to top