Innovation and Change
the Iowa Judicial Branch, the last half of the 20th century was
marked by a series of progressive reforms, far-reaching structural changes, and
innovations designed to professionalize and modernize the Iowa court
Merit Selection and
Retention Elections (1962)
1962, the people of Iowa approved a constitutional amendment that established a
merit selection system for the selection of all appellate and district court
judges. The goal of merit selection is to promote professional qualifications
and remove judicial selection from partisan politics. Nominees for judgeships
are selected by nominating commissions. The governor then makes the appointment
from the slate of nominees. One year after appointment and again at the end of
their term of office, judges and justices stand for retention in office at the
general election. Citizens have the opportunity to vote whether or not a judge
1965, a mandatory judicial retirement age was set at 72 for judges appointed
after July 1, 1965. Those judges and justices selected before that date may
serve until age 75.
(1969 to 1972)
system of 18 chief judges was established in 1969 to supervise over district
court judicial officers and employees within the judicial district.
continued through 1971 with the establishment of an administrative office of
the Judicial Branch. The state court administrator is responsible for managing
the Judicial Branch and administering funds appropriated to it.
1972, eighteen judicial districts were consolidated into eight judicial
districts. A chief judge was appointed to each district for a two-year term.
Together, the eight chief judges and the chief justice of the supreme court
make up the judicial council, which advises the supreme court on court
Unified Trial Court Act
passage of the Unified Trial Court Act of 1973 reformed the state court system
by establishing a unified trial court known as the "Iowa District
Court". This legislation abolished over 500 justice-of-the-peace courts,
899 mayor's courts, 14 municipal courts, and 34 police courts. The Act
established the positions of judicial magistrates and district associate
judges. The Act also established simplified, cost-effective methods of handling
minor civil and criminal cases.
Code of Judicial Conduct
Iowa Code of Judicial Conduct, a code of ethics for judges, was approved by the
Iowa Supreme Court in 1973. In addition, the legislature created a seven member
Commission on Judicial Qualifications in 1973. The commission, which was
approved by voters in an amendment to the Iowa Constitution in 1972, was set up
to investigate and evaluate complaints about the conduct of judicial officers.
Iowa Court of Appeals
the early 1970's, the caseload of the Iowa Supreme Court was so large that it
was taking about two years for the court to process appeals. To ease the
overcrowded supreme court docket, the general assembly established an
intermediate appellate court in 1976. The Iowa Court of Appeals was initially
composed of five judges, but over the years the number of judges has increased
Act: State Funding (1983 to 1987)
1983, the legislature approved the Court Reorganization Act. The Act, which was
originally proposed by the Iowa Supreme Court, transferred the expense of
operating the court system (except the costs of district court facilities) from
the counties to the state. Funding for juvenile court officers, court
attendants (bailiffs), indigent defense, and clerks of court offices was taken
over by the state in phases. The purpose of the transfer was to provide
property tax relief and to equalize trial court resources throughout the state.
Equality in the Courts
Task Force (1993)
the early 90s, the Iowa Supreme Court took on the problems of gender and racial
bias in the courts. The Supreme Court Equality in the Courts Commission gave
Iowans an opportunity to share their views of bias in the courts. In 1993,
after two years of work, the commission proposed a series of reforms aimed at
eliminating any bias that might exist in the Iowa courts.
Commission on Planning
for the 21st Century (1996)
most comprehensive study of the Iowa Judicial Branch was completed in 1996 by
the Iowa Supreme Court Commission on Planning for the 21st Century. The
commission, which was established to develop a long-range plan for Iowa's court
system, brought together more than sixty Iowans from many different walks of
life who were concerned about the administration of justice in Iowa. After a
year of in-depth study and discussion, the commission proposed 90
recommendations that will enable the judicial branch to continue to deliver the
highest quality of justice to the citizens of Iowa into the 21st century and
(1987 to present)
1997, the Iowa Judicial Branch finished a ten-year project that computerized
the court system statewide. The Iowa Court Information System (ICIS) was
designed to automate case scheduling and court data processing throughout the
state. It links all clerk of court offices throughout the state with district
court administration and the state court administrator's office. It has
succeeded in facilitating case management throughout the state. It also allows
the Judicial Branch to interface with other government entities. It serves the
public directly through public access terminals located in each courthouse.
ICIS is the foundation for future technological innovations that will enhance
the court system's ability to serve the public.
Appellate Court Restructuring (1998)
two appellate courts, the Iowa Supreme Court and the Iowa Court of Appeals,
were recently reorganized according to the Appellate Restructuring Plan
approved by the legislature in 1998. The restructuring had two parts: the Iowa
Court of Appeals was increased from six members to nine members in 1999 and the
number of justices on the Iowa Supreme Court was reduced from nine to seven by
attrition between 1999 and 2000. In January 2000, the Iowa Supreme Court began
hearing cases en banc.
purpose of the restructuring plan is simple—to resolve more appeals faster and
to enhance the development of case law. It is in the public's best
interest that the state's highest court hear cases en banc. According to ABA
Appellate Standards, when a court of last resort deliberates and decides cases
en banc, the collective and intellectual resources of the court are brought to
bear on the development of the law.
its inception as a small territorial court to its present day advanced
statewide organization, Iowa's Judicial Branch is a venerable institution that
has continually adapted to best serve the people of Iowa. Iowans can look back on this history with
pride and look forward with confidence that their judicial system will, with
the tools of the future, continue to administer justice consistent with the
traditions of the past.