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The third branch of government is supposed to be fair and impartial. Citizens have a right to a judicial system that treats everyone equally before the law. … Right?
Unfortunately, that’s now how Iowa’s court system works. The Hawkeye State is notorious for its “activist” judges, or judges that use their political views to decide cases.
But how did we get here?
Much of the judicial selection process occurs behind closed doors. Judges are picked by a special commission chaired by judges — and half of that commission is chosen by lawyers. This means that voters and their elected representatives don’t get to examine judicial candidates. Instead, a small group of un-elected individuals does.
This approach to picking judges is known as the “merit selection” system and is supposed to make judicial selection less political. However, it should be called the “like-minded selection” system.
A study by Vanderbilt Law Professor Brian Fitzpatrick found that states using merit selection are just as political as states that don’t use merit selection. All it does is allow lawyers to stack the bench with judges who think like them.
Allowing lawyers to play such an oversized role in appointing judges removes any debate in the public square. Most Iowa citizens don’t get any say in who their judges are.
Gov. Kim Reynolds is supporting a bill, HF 503, that would make changes to our system by removing lawyers from the judicial selection process. Instead, the role would go to elected legislative leaders — lawmakers who can make their constituents’ voices heard.
Transparency and accountability are so important, especially when it comes to something as integral as the third branch of government. Removing lawyers from the process and replacing them with elected officials gets rid of the special-interest influences that have a hold on Iowa’s courts.
If the judicial selection process status quo remains in place, there’s no promise our children and grandchildren will have access to a state judicial system that promises to uphold the law as written. Iowans who find themselves in the court system have a right to be treated equally, no matter their political views.
Reforms in HF 503 are necessary. In fact, they are long overdue.
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