Guest Columnist

Proposal could jeopardize Iowa's checks and balances

PHOTO COURTESY OF RICH TAYLOR

Keokuk students who participate in Innovators Club came to the Statehouse to present their project-based approach to STEM learning (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). Kash Elston, left, shows Sen. Taylor his homemade soda dispenser.
PHOTO COURTESY OF RICH TAYLOR Keokuk students who participate in Innovators Club came to the Statehouse to present their project-based approach to STEM learning (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). Kash Elston, left, shows Sen. Taylor his homemade soda dispenser.

The independence of Iowa’s court system is at risk. A bill that will immediately and dramatically change Iowa’s legal landscape passed the Senate Judiciary Committee on a party line vote this week.

SF 237 will end Iowa’s highly respected nonpartisan method of choosing judges based on merit. It’s a Senate Republican proposal that gives excessive power to the governor and legislative leaders, and undermines our system of checks and balances.

Currently, all resident lawyers in Iowa may participate in the process of electing members to the state’s Judicial Nominating Commissions. An equal number of Iowans are appointed to the Commissions by the Governor and confirmed by the Senate.

Judicial Nominating Commissions evaluate and interview applicants for judgeships and provide a list of recommended nominees to the governor, who selects her preferred choice.

Under SF 237, all members of every Judicial Nominating Commission in Iowa would be immediately dismissed, and the process of appointing members to all the commissions would start from scratch.

Under the new scheme, the governor would appoint half the members to the Judicial Nominating Commissions, but they will no longer be subject to Senate confirmation. Legislative leaders would choose the remaining members. Practicing lawyers in Iowa — the people most familiar with their colleagues’ work — would be eliminated from the process.

Statehouse Republicans are pushing for a court system that could be run by extremists who have no real knowledge of the law. This move is a fundamental misstep that goes against the will of the people who voted to put the current process of judge selection into the Iowa Constitution.

Republicans already control two branches of state government. If this bill becomes law, they will also control the third.

— Sen. Rich Taylor represents Henry and Lee counties and portions of Washington and Jefferson counties. He can be reached via email at rich.taylor@legis.iowa.gov, or by calling 319-931-1568.