Opinion | Iowa’s Supreme Court is superior to the Federal Court

The Iowa Supreme Court’s method of appointing justices and the way in which it interacts with the other government branches are an example of what we can do to improve the U.S. Supreme Court.


Raquele Decker

A memorial for Ruth Bader Ginsburg is seen outside the University of Iowa’s College of Law building on Monday, Sept. 21, 2020. Ginsburg passed away Friday, Sept. 18, 2020.

Adam Engelbrecht, Opinions Columnist

Last week, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died. Sadly, this event means more than simply the loss of a dedicated, trailblazing public servant. It also means that Congress is at war again.

Supreme Court justices are important figures. They are essentially the interpreters of the constitution. This means their decisions affect everything from Second Amendment rights to abortion, to many other important issues that affect all of us.

The Supreme Court was created to be nonpartisan. Given that its responsibilities were to interpret a document as important and unchanging as the constitution, having its members be subject to the political tides of any given moment was seen as dangerous.

The moment we are in now is a perfect example of how this idea has been forgotten.

The Supreme Court is supposed to be a check and a balance on both the legislative and executive branches of government. Yet, its members are nominated by the president (the Chief Executive) and confirmed by the Senate (the most important legislative body in the U.S.)

The result of this is the exact scenario we are meant to avoid; rather than being nonpartisan, the Supreme Court is entirely partisan. In other words, the ideology of the justice who gets nominated is completely dependent on the ideology of the president, and of the Senate.

On top of this, justices serve life appointments. This means that the ideological question also becomes a time question. This is being played out now in the wake of Ginsburg’s death.

Because the consequences of a judicial appointment now could last decades, the Senate and president are incentivized to ram through a nominee that fits their ideology now, rather than wait a few months, when they could lose power, and lose their appointment authority.

Conversely, the opposition party is now incentivized to do everything they can to block an appointment from happening, until they potentially gain back power, and can then appoint someone who fits their ideology.

Failing this, the opposition party can also choose to simply expand the courts once they take power back, stacking the court to their ideological advantage by adding more people.

As you can no doubt clearly see, this amounts to nothing more than a game of tennis, the court ultimately being victim to the political whims of each party as they gain and lose power.

There are ways to counteract this. Looking at the Iowa Supreme Court can give us a small hint at the right direction.

The Iowa Supreme Court justices are also nominated by the chief executive, in this case the governor. However, the list of options available for the Governor is created by the State Judicial Nominating commission, which is partially independent from the apparatus of the government.

Additionally, justices on the Iowa Supreme Court serve eight-year terms, rather than life appointments. This means that although the judges are still ultimately chosen somewhat by an ideological framework, there is much less incentive to pack the courts or halt proceedings during election years.

These two ideas can go a long way in counteracting the partisan bias in our courts. Having a truly independent nominating commission that can choose the most qualified judges rather than the most partisan ones will go a long way.

Setting up term limits will also take some of the politics out of the architecture of the U.S. Supreme Court. It would take the uncertainty out of the careers of justices and would allow us to avoid unfortunate political situations on top of unfortunate losses, such as Justice Ginsburg.

Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.

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