Guest Columnist

Iowa courts must remain free from politics

Supreme Court of Iowa in Des Moines on Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Supreme Court of Iowa in Des Moines on Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

It is with grave concern that we write to sound the alarm at the actions of some lawmakers, and potentially the governor, to politicize Iowa’s courts.

The judicial branch in Iowa has long served its citizens well and holds a much-deserved reputation for fairness and impartiality. As one of three co-equal branches of government, the judicial branch is often seen as the most trustworthy of all three because of the lack of partisanship or outside influence. Iowa justices and judges are committed to upholding our state’s constitution and serving its citizens with equal consideration under the law.

Two identical pieces of legislation are making their way through the legislative process that would greatly harm the well-tested and nonpartisan process of choosing Iowa’s judges and justices. Iowa’s current model of merit selection is nationally recognized and emulated in states across the country.

A key piece of the merit selection process is the judicial nominating commissions, which serve separately at the district and state levels. Everyday citizens, both lawyers and non-lawyers, are chosen to serve on the nominating commissions. The court provides a process for lawyers to elect the lawyers in their district and at the state level. The governor chooses the commissioners who are not lawyers at both levels. Each commission screens and recommends judicial candidates for judicial seats in their area to the governor for her or his final selection.

The proposed legislation will insert politics directly into the process that is specifically intended to be nonpartisan. The bill designates the governor and legislative leaders – all partisan officials – the sole power to choose who is on the nominating commissions. This is a power grab at the most extreme level by some in the Legislature and will cause great harm to our independent judiciary.

For over 50 years, Iowans have been privileged to have a process designed to limit the influence of special-interest groups and politics to the extent possible. Iowans value our judiciary and understand that, in order to have their own fair day in court, we must ensure the process of choosing our justices and judges remains nonpartisan.

We strongly urge lawmakers to abandon this effort to politicize our courts and ensure the checks and balances of three strong, independent branches of government remain in place for the betterment of our state and its citizens.

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• Sally Pederson is a former lieutenant governor of Iowa and honorary chair of Justice Not Politics. Steve Roberts is a former Iowa Republican state chairman. Arthur A. McGiverin and Louis A. Lavorato are former chief justices of the Iowa Supreme Court. Mark McCormick, Robert G. Allbee, Linda K. Neuman and Bruce M. Snell, Jr. are former justices of the Iowa Supreme Court.

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