Iowa JNC

About Merit Selection, Appointing Authority, and Accountability

The merit selection system involves nonpartisan commissions that review the qualifications of applicants for judicial office.  Applicants provide the appropriate commission with extensive information about their education, professional career, and qualifications.  In addition, each commission conducts interviews of candidates.  Once the commission screens and interviews applicants, it forwards a slate of nominees to the appropriate appointing authority, often the governor, who makes the final appointment.

Iowa voters replaced the process of selecting judges by popular vote with a merit selection and retention election process by passing a Constitution Amendment in 1962. The process for selecting judges is set out in the Iowa Constitution and in the Iowa Code, a compilation of Iowa laws that is published every two years.

Merit selection focuses on the professional qualifications of applicants—experience, legal skills and knowledge, and judicial temperament.  The process eliminates the need for judicial candidates to finance political campaigns—which usually involve accepting substantial sums of money from special interest groups or individuals seeking favorable court decisions—thereby maintaining an independent, fair, and impartial judiciary.

Merit selection promotes the selection of the most qualified applicants and continues to ensure Iowa has fair and impartial judges who are accountable to the public.

Although no judicial selection system is completely free of politics, a process using merit selection and retention elections:

  • Curbs the influence of partisan politics and special interest groups in the selection of Iowa’s judges.
  • Emphasizes the selection of judges based upon their professional qualifications.
  • Gives voters the final say about who serves as a judge.
  • Is the most effective way to ensure fair and impartial courts.

Appointing Authority

The appointing authority reviews the commission’s nominees before appointing the judicial officer. The authority varies according to the type of judgeship.

The governor appoints:

  • Supreme court justices
  • Court of appeals judges
  • District judges

The district judges appoint:

  • Associate judges for a judicial district

The Magistrate Appointing Commission appoints:

  • Magistrate judges

How are courts accountable?

Our system of government is carefully designed to foster fair and impartial courts while maintaining judicial accountability through a series of checks on judicial power.

  • If a party in a case believes a judge made an error in a case, the party may appeal to a higher court to review the judge’s ruling. 
  • If citizens disagree with a court’s interpretation of a law, they may petition the legislature to amend the law and change the law’s effect in the future. 
  • If citizens disagree with a court’s interpretation of the constitution, they have the ultimate power to amend the constitution to change its effect in the future. 
  • If a person thinks a judge has behaved unethically, the person may ask the Judicial Qualifications Commission to investigate.

In these ways, courts are accountable to the laws, to the Iowa Constitution, and to the people. 

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