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Here's how U.S. Supreme Court nominations differ from Iowa Supreme Court nominations

The Iowa Supreme Court building. (CBS2/FOX28)

The country is buzzing about President Trump’s pick to replace retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy on the nation’s highest court and in Iowa, a similar decision awaits Governor Reynolds to replace a justice retiring this fall on the Iowa Supreme Court.

But the path to choosing the replacements at the federal and state level are different.

For the United States Supreme Court, it's at the discretion of the sitting president to choose someone to fill a vacancy, like Trump did choosing Judge Brett Kavanaugh of the D.C. Circuit Court to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy. Kennedy announced his retirement from the highest court in the country in June.

Similarly in Iowa, there's a vacancy to be filled upon the retirement of Justice Bruce Zager in early September.

“At the federal level people don’t apply for judicial positions, they’re just sort of sought out and nominated but in our state system, you have to apply to be considered," said Jerry Anderson, dean of Drake University's law school in Des Moines.

People apply to be considered and the State Judicial Nominating Commission---which is made up of half attorneys selected by the state bar and half citizens chosen by the governor---reviews each candidate, ultimately narrowing the list to a select few from which the sitting governor chooses.

“[It's] a commission that’s supposed to look at applicants and assess their qualifications in a more nonpartisan way," Anderson said, citing it as one of Iowa's "checks in place" that reduces some of the debate over the "politics" of the court seen on a national level.

"Our system reduces the influence of politics in the process but it doesn't completely eliminate politics from the process," Anderson said. "It's certainly less of a political influence than you have in the federal system."

This is different than the federal level where the sitting president chooses the nominee, who then is vetted and confirmed by the U.S. Senate before being sworn in. The Iowa Senate does not confirm Iowa nominees.

Anderson noted yet another difference between the federal system and the state system: Iowa judges face "retention elections," in which voters can weigh in and choose to keep or remove justices from the court. Justices on Iowa's Supreme Court bench also face a mandatory retirement age of 72, whereas U.S. Supreme Court justices are lifetime appointments.

"Our system of nominating justices and lower court judges as well has resulted in a really high quality judiciary in Iowa," Anderson said.

Pending to be heard in Iowa's Supreme Court is the six-week, "fetal heartbeat" abortion ban Governor Reynolds signed into law in May.

When asked by reporters Wednessday if this at all affects her decision in choosing from the list Reynolds said, “I want somebody who will follow and uphold the law," declining to comment further.

The state commission named the three finalists Susan Christensen, Terri Combs and Kellyann Lekar July 10; Governor Reynolds has 30 days from that announcement to interview the candidates and make a decision.




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