Chief Justice appeals for better pay for Iowa judges

DES MOINES — Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Susan Larson Christensen is asking lawmakers to raise the pay for Iowa judges.

“They are paid less than judges in every state that touches Iowa,” Christensen said Wednesday. “…Iowa judges make $16,000 less per year than South Dakota judges and they make $38,000 less per year than Nebraska It’s no wonder the average number of applicants for per district court judge vacancy has decreased 62% in the past 20 years.”

Christensen delivered the annual “Condition of the Judiciary” address in the Iowa Capitol Wednesday and spent a good share of the speech discussing compensation for judges, “In the last 15 years, judges have received a pay raise five times,” Christensen said. “…Being appointed by our governor should be the pinnacle of an attorney’s career, not a deep financial sacrifice.”

Christensen is also asking lawmakers to stabilize the contributions judges make to their pension system. “For those of you who have listened to my prior speeches, I have never broached the topic of either pay or pensions for our judges. This year is different,” Christensen said. “I feel compelled to publicly speak from this platform…as the voice for all judges in our state.”

Christensen also asked lawmakers to raise the pay for contract attorneys who represent indigent clients in state courts. Christensen, as the chief of state government’s judicial branch, is asking lawmakers to approve a 4.3% increase in state spending on the state court system.

Christensen’s speech comes after Governor Reynolds and other Republicans criticized the Iowa Supreme Court for failing last June to allow the six week abortion ban adopted in 2018 to take effect. The legislature passed an nearly identical law in July — and the state supreme court has yet to rule on a legal challenge of it.

“If your constituents come up to you and say: ‘Hey, Judge so and so really messed up this opinion,’ or if you maybe even tell your constituent the same thing that is your right to hold such a belief,” Christensen said. “I may even agree with you, but what I am asking you to do is to take that opportunity to explain that even when you think a judge is dead wrong, they are public servants just like you and they are commuted to the rule of law, just as you would want them to be.”

The Iowa Supreme Court’s ruling on the so-called “fetal heartbeat” law is expected by the end of June.