DES MOINES — Senate Republicans have revived a plan to have the governor appoint the majority of those who serve on commissions that nominate candidates to be district court judges.
Senator Todd Taylor, a Democrat from Cedar Rapids, says it gives the governor too much influence. “The deck is going to be stacked in favor of the governor picking judges,” Taylor says, “so it’ll probably be done on ideological balances instead of on, you know, their record.” The proposal was one vote short of clearing a House committee this spring, so Republicans on the Senate Appropriations Committee have attached it to a budget bill.
Republican Senator Julian Garrett of Indianola says for nearly three years, the governor has appointed a majority of members on the state commission that nominates candidates for vacancies on the Iowa Supreme Court and Court of Appeals. “I really haven’t heard complaints that we’re not getting good quality judges at the state supreme court level and the appellate court level,” Garrett says. “This very same formula seems to have worked out fine there.”
Iowa governors appoint judges, but must choose from a slate of candidates submitted by nominating commissions. The commissions for district court vacancies have 11 members. Five are elected by local lawyers and five are currently appointed by the governor, with the chief judge in each district serving as chair. This proposal also removes judges as leaders of the commissions — since the governor would appoint six of the 11 members.
Last fall, a judge in Humboldt chairing a nominating commission was accused of coaching one candidate and lying about another withdrawing from consideration for a district court opening in the Carroll area.