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Iowa abandons nonpartisan judicial selections, imperiling its 'good government' reputation

Iowa was the first state to take partisan politics out of redistricting. Now it's the latest state to restore partisan politics to the judicial selection process.

The Republican-run legislature pushed through a bill this month giving the governor a dominant hand in picking judges and justices to the state's top courts, undoing the essentially nonpartisan system that's been in place for six decades.

That old law's adoption in the 1960s, and the decision starting back in 1980 to fight partisan gerrymandering by turning over the drawing of electoral boundaries to anonymous bureaucrats, earned Iowa plaudits as one of the most democracy-reform-minded states.

That reputation is now challenged by the new judicial selection law, which a group of Democrats in the state House sued to block on Wednesday.

The law permits GOP Gov. Kim Reynolds and her successors to make nine partisan appointments to the 17-member commission that drives the selection of judges for the state Supreme Court and Court of Appeals. It also limits the term of the state's chief justice to two years. The lawsuit says the new statute violates the separation of powers required by changing the terms for the chief justice, who has been elected by the Supreme Court's members to serve for as long as eight years.

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Until now, the panel had equal numbers chosen by the governor and the Iowa bar, plus one state Supreme Court justice.

"Iowa has been at the top of the class, a model for the other 49 states to look up to on our merit-based selection process," former Democratic legislator Bob Rush told the Sioux City Journal. "This shady deal," he said, "was "a backroom deal to put politics back into the selection of judges."

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