A contentious bill in the Iowa Legislature was recently passed out of the Senate, reigniting debate around the state on judicial nomination reform.

Senate File 237 changes the makeup of the judicial nominating commission, which currently has eight of the 17 members selected by attorneys. State Senator Jake Chapman, (R) District 10, feels having lawyers appoint other lawyers is a conflict of interest and doesn’t properly represent the will of voters. If the bill is passed, the eight attorneys on the commission would be chosen by the leadership of the Legislature, as well as the Governor. “What we’re proposing certainly doesn’t muddy the water — it gives the minority party a voice at the table — it simply changes who is appointing attorneys. We simply think it’s wrong to have 10,000 Iowans have this super delegation authority in which they get to have half the representation on the nominating commission.”

Perry lawyer Mark Powell of the Finneseth, Dalen, and Powell Law Firm disagrees with Chapman’s assessment, calling it a political maneuver. He points out that the eight non-lawyers on the commission are already selected by the Governor, so one party will always have the majority of power in the judge selection process, and those without party affiliation would have no voice at the table. Powell says the legislation is a step in the wrong direction in a system that has functioned effectively for more than 50 years. “The merit-based system that Iowa currently has is a model throughout the nation, and one that I think a lot of other states, if you asked their judges and people not affiliated with the political parties, wish they had. We’re truly testing our judicial nominees on their legal knowledge, rather than are they playing political favorites.”

SF237 will now head to committee in the House before it will once more be considered on the floor. If it passes there, it will return to the Senate for final consideration before heading to the Governor’s desk to become law. To learn more about the current general assembly, listen to our weekly legislative update every Monday on the Perry Fareway Let’s Talk Dallas County program.