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Judicial Selection 


Merit Selection: Promoting Quality and Fairness 


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 reform, referred to as the "Missouri Plan," promotes selection of the best qualified applicants and ensures that Iowa has fair and impartial judges who are accountable to the public.    


The merit selection system involves a nonpartisan commission that reviews the qualifications of applicants for judicial office.  Applicants provide the commission with extensive information about their education, professional career, and qualifications.  In addition, the commission conducts interviews of all candidates.  Once the commission screens and interviews applicants, it forwards a slate of nominees to the governor who makes the final appointment. 


Merit selection focuses on the professional qualifications of applicants—experience, legal skills and knowledge, and judicial temperament.  More importantly, by eliminating the need for judicial candidates to finance political campaigns—which usually involve accepting substantial sums of money from well-heeled special interest groups seeking favorable court decisions—merit selection promotes an independent and impartial judiciary 


How Citizens Play a Key Role  


While Iowans no longer select judges by popular election, they continue to play a fundamental role in deciding who serves on the judiciary.  Iowans:  

  • May serve on judicial nominating commissions.
  • Suggest the name of an applicant to be considered for a judgeship.
  • Provide a nominating commission with comments about individual applicants for the bench.
  • Vote whether or not to keep a judge in office for another term.


If you would like to serve on a judicial nominating commission, contact the governor's office.  If you would like to serve on a magistrate nominating commission, contact the county board of supervisors. 


When a vacancy in a judicial office occurs, the appropriate commission will announce the start of a nominating process, including an address for sending information, nominations, and applications.  This information can be found on this site and it is also published by most newspapers in the state.    


Eligibility for Judicial Office 


In general, nominees for any judgeship except for judicial magistrates must be lawyers admitted to practice law in Iowa.  Also, a nominee must be a resident of the state, district, or county to which they are nominated and must be of an age such that they can serve a full term of office before reaching age 72.  


Although the merit selection system governs the selection of all judges and magistrates, specific procedures vary somewhat depending on the type of judgeship.    


State Nominating Commission 


The State Judicial Nominating Commission interviews applicants and selects nominees for appointment to the Iowa Supreme Court as well as the Iowa Court of Appeals.  This commission is composed of a chair, eight commissioners elected by lawyers, and eight commissioners appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Iowa Senate.  The chair is the senior justice of the Iowa Supreme Court, other than the chief justice.  All commissioners, but the chair, serve for a term of six years.    


Within sixty days of receiving the notice from the secretary of state, the commission must submit the names of nominees to the governor. The commission selects three nominees for appointment to the Supreme Court, and three nominees for appointment to the Court of Appeals.    


District Nominating Commissions 


District judicial nominating commissions are responsible for screening applicants and selecting nominees for district court judgeships.  There is a nominating commission for each of Iowa's fourteen judicial election subdistricts.  Each district commission has eleven members, including a chair, who is the most senior district court judge in the district, five members elected by lawyers, and five members appointed by the governor.  Each commissioner, except the chair, serves a six-year term.  The district nominating provides the governor with a slate of two nominees from which to make an appointment to the district court. 


County Magistrate Appointing Commissions 


Each county has a magistrate appointing commission to assist with the selection of district associate judges, associate juvenile or probate judges, and magistrates.  Each magistrate nominating commission is composed of the following members:  a district court judge who serves as chair and who is designated by the chief judge of the judicial district, up to three non-lawyer members appointed by the board of supervisors, and up to two attorneys elected by the attorneys in the county.  The board of supervisors may not appoint an active law enforcement officer as a commissioner.  A county attorney may not serve on the commission.  Commissioners, except for the district court judge, serve six-year terms.    


District associate judges, associate juvenile judges, and associate probate judges are appointed by the district judges of the judicial election district from nominees submitted by the magistrate appointing commission.    


Magistrates are appointed by the magistrate appointing commission.    

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