Bill to Change Iowa Supreme Court Rule Advances in Senate

Feb 13, 2018

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill Monday that would require a supermajority of Iowa Supreme Court justices to declare a law unconstitutional.

Five of the Supreme Court’s seven justices would have to agree in order to declare an Iowa statute unconstitutional.

Sen. Julian Garrett, R-Indianola, said he feels the Iowa Supreme Court has “overstepped its bounds.”

“There have been a whole series of cases over many years where major changes in our society have been made—not through the legislative process, not as a result of the people’s elected representatives—but just based on the opinion of a majority of judges on a court,” Garrett said.

Iowa Supreme Court decisions are currently based on a simple majority, with some rulings split 4-3.

Sen. Nate Boulton, D-Des Moines, urged the committee to vote no because the law would “redefine the state’s balance of powers.”

“It is certainly interesting that in terms of determining how many justices are required to interpret the constitution, we’re doing this with a statutory action—not a constitutional amendment, not anything more serious than that,” Boulton said.

Nebraska and North Dakota are the only states that have similar laws in place.

Sen. Charles Schneider, R-West Des Moines, was the only Republican to vote against the bill. He said a change like that should be considered by voters as a constitutional amendment.

“I understand the feelings behind it, and why some people might want to move in this direction,” Schneider said. “But to me, I can very easily see this working against people for the same reasons they’re supporting it now.”

The bill can now be considered by the full Iowa Senate.