Why Should YOU Care About Pay Raises for Iowa Judges?

April 11, 2021

We’ll answer that question with another question: Wouldn’t you want to know that the Iowa judge you might stand before someday is the best our legal community has to offer?

Let’s say your business is on the line in a contract dispute, for example. Or your financial security depends on the fair resolution of a complicated divorce. Perhaps you were badly injured by a defective product and are asking an Iowa judge to hold a major corporate wrongdoer accountable. Maybe you’ve been unjustly accused of a crime and are depending on a judge to protect your very freedom.

Iowa’s district court judges handle thousands of cases like these every year. Even if you never actually stand before a judge, the Iowa Supreme Court has the final word on issues that affect everyone, including immigration, the death penalty, sex discrimination, reproductive rights, partisan gerrymandering, and the integrity of our elections, just to list a few.

We bring this matter to your attention following a recent guest op-ed for the Des Moines Register by Bob Teig, a former federal prosecutor, who says Iowa judges haven’t made a good case for the 3% pay raise requested by Iowa’s judicial branch in its latest budget proposal. Jeff Schnurr, president of the Iowa State Bar Association, returned volley a few days later with a point-by-point rebuttal of Teig’s essay under the banner headline: Iowa Judges’ Achievements Are Strong Evidence for Higher Pay.

Both authors present well-written arguments bursting with facts and figures about past pay and compensation, caseloads before and after the pandemic, and the number of applicants interested in open seats. However, one number in particular stood out to us – 37.

Mr. Schnurr reports that Iowa ranks 37th in the nation for district court judge salaries, according to the National Center for State Courts. With only three pay raises in the past 10 years, judicial salaries actually decreased from 2010 to 2019 when accounting for inflation. Meanwhile, the number of applicants for district court vacancies has dropped by 56% on average from 2003 to 2020, the number of private practice attorneys applying has fallen almost 50% from 2009 to 2020.

Anyone who has tried to fill a key position in any organization knows that the more applicants you have for the job, the more likely your search will generate outstanding candidates. As we have written here in the past, Iowans can be proud of the exceptional men and women who now serve as judges in our courts. With all that is at stake here, a 3% investment in judicial salaries will continue to yield big returns with highly qualified judges dedicated to fair and impartial courts for all Iowans.

The Team at Justice Not Politics