Merit Selection: Promoting Quality
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
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.
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
Iowans no longer select judges by popular election, they continue to play a fundamental
role in deciding who serves on the judiciary.
- May serve on judicial nominating
- 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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
County Magistrate Appointing
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.
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.
are appointed by the magistrate appointing commission.