How Does The Iowa Supreme Court Work?
The Iowa Supreme Court is the highest in the state court system. As an appellate court, the Supreme Court reviews cases that started in trial courts and decides whether to consider an appeal. The function of the Iowa Supreme Court is to evaluate all burdens of evidence provided by an appealing party, which may indicate that a lower court failed to use the correct law during the trial.
Supreme Court cases do not involve witnesses, juries, new evidence, or court reporters. The majority of the cases appealed to the Supreme Court involve criminal, family, or juvenile matters. In all cases, the opinions of the Iowa Supreme Court are binding on all other state courts.
The Iowa Supreme Court has administrative and supervisory control over the Iowa Judicial Branch. It is responsible for prescribing the procedures and practices used in Iowa State Courts. All appealed cases go through the Iowa Supreme Court for possible transfer to the Iowa Court of Appeals. The Iowa Supreme Court also has the sole power to admit, supervise, and discipline attorneys in the state. According to Section 602.4102 of the Iowa Code, the following describes the Iowa Supreme Court’s jurisdiction:
- Appellate jurisdiction is only in cases of chancery.
- The Supreme Court ceases to have jurisdiction over a case once transferred to a Court of Appeals. However, a party to a case decided by an appeal court may apply to the Supreme Court for further review.
- The Supreme Court has sole control over all rules regarding the transfer of cases to the Court of Appeals.
- The Supreme Court has sole control over all rules that govern appellate procedures and further review appeal court decisions.
- The Supreme Court shall deny applications for further review of cases if appeals are not filed within 20 days of the Court of Appeals’ decision.
- The Supreme Court shall extend the time for filing an application if the Clerk of the Court of Appeals fails to notify the prospective applicant of the decision’s filing.
- If an application is not acted upon by the Supreme Court within 30 days of filing, the original judgment is affirmed.
The Iowa Supreme Court is composed of a Chief Justice and six Associate Justices. To select a new Justice, the Iowa State Governor sends a notice of judicial vacancy to the State Judicial Nominating Commission. The Commission comprises eight individuals selected by Iowa lawyers and nine commissioners appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate. The Commission begins interviewing applicants within sixty days of receiving the notice, and interviews are open to the public. After the interview process, three nominees are provided to the governor, who then has thirty days to appoint a new Justice.
Upon appointment into the judicial office, Justices serve an initial one-year term. After the term expires on January 1 of the following year, Justices may undergo a judicial retention election. During this election, voters cast their ballots in favor of or against retaining an incumbent judge using a Yes-No voting system. Justices are retained if the number of favorable votes cast exceeds the number of votes cast against them. Retained Justices serve a term of eight years.
Other Justices of the Supreme Court select the Chief Justice. The requirement for appointment to serve as an Iowa Supreme Court Justice is to be an attorney licensed to practice in the state. Nominees must also be able to complete an eight-year term before the mandatory retirement age of 72. However, the court may assign a retired Justice to serve as a senior judge under the Senior Judge Program.
A Supreme Court Justice may be removed from office if impeached by a majority vote of the Iowa House of Representatives and then convicted by two-thirds of the Iowa Senate. A Justice may also be removed based on a recommendation by the Iowa Judicial Qualifications Committee.
All records in the Iowa Supreme Court, as well as motions and screening cases, are processed by the Clerk of the Supreme Court. The State Court Administrator assists the Supreme Court in managing the statewide court system. The State Court Administrator gathers statistical data, arranges training and education programs for judges and staff, and oversees the day-to-day operations of the judicial system. The Supreme Court also receives assistance from the Judicial Council, which advices on the administration and supervision of the judicial branch. The Council consists of Chief Judges of the eight District Courts of Iowa, the Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals, and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
The Iowa Supreme Court holds its regular sessions in Des Moines at the address listed below:
Iowa Judicial Branch Building
1111 East Court Avenue
Des Moines, IA 50319
The following are Iowa Supreme Court documents and methods of finding them:
There are three ways to view appellate cases in the Iowa Supreme Court.
- Electronic document viewing at a courthouse public terminal, in the county where the appeal was filed,
- Written request directed to the Clerk of the Iowa Supreme Court using the following address:
Iowa Judicial Branch Building,
1111 East Court Avenue,
Des Moines, IA 50319
Phone: (515) 348–4700
- Online using the self-search tool provided by the Iowa Judicial Branch.
Requestors seeking information online will be required to provide the following information:
- Appellate Docket Number
- Short Case Title
- Last Name/Firm
- First Name
The service is available to all users. However, certain details of cases are only available to registered users. The monthly subscription fee for registered users is $25.
Supreme Court Opinions
Opinions describe the written views of a Justice concerning a particular order. The state Judicial Branch provides Iowa Supreme Court Opinions. Archived Opinions date back to 2007 and contain data such as:
- Order Number
- Complainant information
- Respondent information
- Date filed
Supreme Court Order
A Supreme Court Order reflects actions to be taken by parties to a case. All orders are signed by the Supreme Court Justice and filed by the Clerk of the Supreme Court.
Oral Argument Schedule
These are reserved dates for oral arguments to be heard before the Iowa Supreme Court. Typically, schedule documents include:
- Case Number
- Case Parties
Oral Argument Schedules are posted by the Iowa Judicial Branch.