Only six members of the Iowa House voted to consider a plan that would let the governor appoint whomever he or she wants to serve on the Iowa Court of Appeals.
It would have replaced the current system in which a 15-member Judicial Nominating Commission submits three names to the governor and the governor must choose one of the three nominees for openings on the court. Representative Dwayne Alons, a Republican from Hull who is a critic of the Iowa Supreme Court’s ruling on gay marriage, said the current process isn’t working.
“Many people in my district and, I believe, many people even all across the state of Iowa are very supportive of us changing the way judges are appointed and selected,” Alons said.
Legislators cannot change the process for appointing disrict court judges or justices to the Iowa Supreme Court. It would require a constitutional amendment to do that, but legislators have the authority to make changes in the way members of the Iowa Court of Appeals are appointed.
Alons proposed a system similar to the one U.S. presidents use to fill vacancies on the U.S. Supreme Court. Whomever the governor would choose for the Iowa Court of Appeals would have to be confirmed by the Iowa Senate under the plan Alons outlined during House debate Wednesday afternoon. Alons called it a “baby step” toward ultimately changing the way all judges are appointed to Iowa courts.
“A first look or attempt at moving in a different direction than relying upon this commission that we now have for the selection of judge names to be submitted to the governor,” Alons said.
Seven of the members of the 15-person Judicial Nominating Commission are lawyers and supporters of the current system says that helps ensure political considerations take a back seat to the qualifications of the individual being nominated.
“I disagree with that analysis,” Alons said. “Everything we do here is political.”
The other five State Representatives who voted with Alons to consider the plan were Republicans Royd Chambers of Sheldon, Betty De Boef of What Cheer, Kim Pearson of Pleasant Hill, Jason Schultz of Schleswig and Tom Shaw of Laurens.
But 89 other representatives voted against considering the proposal, including Representative Richard Anderson, a Republican from Clarinda. “Any changes to the Judicial Nominating Commission process I think should be done only after very careful and thoughtful work,” Anderson said.
Anderson is a lawyer who submitted an initial application for one of the recent openings on the Iowa Supreme Court, but withdrew it before the Judicial Nominating Commission began its interviews.
A few bills that proposed changes in the way judges are selected in Iowa failed to win committee approval by a key deadline a few weeks ago, and none of those bills are eligible for debate for the remainder of the 2011 legislative session.
(A previous version of this story incorrectly listed Rep. Renee Schulte as having voted for this proposal, and omitted the name of Rep. Jason Schultz who did vote for it.)