Our judicial-nominating process was created with good intentions. But it needs improvement to better reflect our state and its people.
Seventeen members of the state judicial-nominating commission select judges to serve on our court of appeals and Supreme Court. Eight members of the commission (almost half) are elected by members of the Bar. That means 1,000 to 1,500 lawyers vote for the judges that they themselves will argue in front of. It’s a conflict of interest, and it’s backroom politics that leaves the vast majority of Iowans in the dark.
The House and Senate are proposing to fix this problem, and I wholeheartedly support a change. Under the new system, half of the commission still would be lawyers, but those lawyers wouldn’t be elected by the Bar; they would be selected by the people’s representatives.
Other states select their judges in a similar fashion. In fact, the overwhelming majority of states that rank above Iowa in judicial quality do not allow lawyers to vote for the commissioners. And in most of the states that rank above Iowa and use commissions, the commissioners are selected by elected officials.
In response to proposed changes, the Bar Association and Democrats say that our judiciary will become political and lose its credibility. But they’re not relying on evidence. They’re playing politics to keep a system that they control. I don’t blame them, but look at the facts.
Since 2003, the Bar has consistently elected an overwhelming percentage of Democrats — there has never been more than one Republican of the seven or eight commissioners serving at a single time. And for almost two years there were none. Not one single Republican.
It’s not hard to see how that happens. In the 2018 Bar elections, 51 percent of the voters were Democrats — almost twice the percentage of Democrats in Iowa’s general voting population. And the lawyers who voted in the 2018 commission elections gave four times as much in political donations to Democrats as Republicans.
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The issue at hand is simple: When voting is limited to a special group, and that group is dominated by one party, then the people who are elected generally will reflect those same views. That’s not balanced, and that’s what has to change.
Allowing the people of Iowa, through their elected officials of both parties, to have a greater voice in selecting judges will make our system fairer, best reflect the views and values of all 3 million Iowans, while keeping the best parts of our judicial selection process in place.
• Kim Reynolds is the Republican governor of Iowa.