DES MOINES — The judicial nominating process he had a hand in developing as a member of the Iowa Legislature has served the state well, but U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley recalls that he and his colleagues intended future lawmakers to review it in 10 years — or 47 years ago.
Grassley, who served in the Iowa House from 1959-75 before being elected to the U.S. House and later the Senate, said Thursday during a visit to the Statehouse that the merit-based system legislators created in 1962 was an improvement over the party-based nominating process it replaced. Capitol Police accompanied Grassley, now the president pro tempore of the Senate and third in line to the presidency.
“We previously had a judicial nominating convention for Republicans and another for Democrats,” he said. “The purpose of going to the merit-based system was based on the proposition that if you had a lawyer who contributed to a winning candidate for the judgeship you might not get equal justice. We wanted to do away with that.”
Grassley met with legislative leaders Thursday, including his grandson, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford. The elder Grassley chaired that committee during his Iowa House tenure.
“That merit-based part of it should never be changed,” the senator said. “I think it has worked well (with) the people having the final vote when you have a retention vote every six years.”
However, he is staying out of the current fight over who should select nominees for judgeships.
House and Senate Republicans have proposed replacing the Iowa State Bar Association role in the judicial nominating process. House Study Bill 110 calls for the governor to appoint half the members of the state judicial nominating commission and the majority and minority leaders from each chamber appointing two members. It’s similar to Senate File 237.
It was clearly the intention of legislators that the selection process be reviewed after 10 years, Sen. Grassley said, though he didn’t vote for that provision.
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“We said we didn’t know if this is exactly how it ought to be done,” he said, “so we ought to leave it to the legislators after 10 years.
“So now, nearly 60 years later, the Legislature decided somebody else ought to be involved,” he said. “I’m going to leave that up to the Legislature.”
HSB 110 will be eligible for debate next week. SF 237 is debate-eligible.
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