A 6% pay raise still means Iowa judges will earn less than judges in surrounding states

DES MOINES — Iowa district court judges are paid less than judges in every state that touches Iowa. While the Iowa Supreme Court’s chief justice has recommended a 6,2% salary hike for Iowa judges, that still won’t bring their pay in line with any surrounding state.

In January, Chief Justice Susan Christensen told lawmakers Iowa district court judges have gone without pay raises in 10 of the last 15 years and they now make $16,000 less per year than South Dakota judges and $38,000 less than judges in Nebraska.

“Being appointed by our governor should be the pinnacle of a lawyer’s career, not a deep financial sacrifice,” Christensen said.

%he number of applicants for district court judgeships has declined 61% in the past 20 years. “Fewer of those applicants are coming from the private practice of law,” State Court Administrator Bob Gast recently told lawmakers. “There has been a 65% decline from 2009 to 2023.”

State Representative Brian Lohse, a Republican from Bondurant, is chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee that drafts a budget for the the state’s court system. He said raising the salaries of district court judges is a goal he hopes to achieve this year, but lawmakers haven’t settled on a number yet. “Being a judge is a difficult job, but it’s also not the most lucrative when compared to the private sector,” Lohse says. “If we’re going to really move forward in the law and have the kind of decisions we want and good, good justice, we need to be able to put bright legal minds in the benches and, as a lawyer myself, you want a good person sitting in that judicial seat, making the decisions for your case.”

The annual salary for a district court judge today is just over $158,000.