The Iowa Constitution
The Constitution of Iowa is the plan for our state government. The plan tells how the government should be organized and who has certain duties. Iowa's first constitution was written when Iowa entered the Union as a state in 1846. It was different from the rules of government which had been followed when Iowa was a territory, and it was different from the constitutions of other states. It was supposed to fit the needs of people in Iowa.
Unfortunately, there were problems with the first constitution of 1846. The people decided in 1857 that it would be easier to start over again with a new constitution. A new plan of government was written at a meeting in the Old Stone Capitol in Iowa City. This new constitution is the one we live by today. It has been amended 46 times since 1857.
Just as the national government had three separate branches, the 1857 constitution set up three branches of government for Iowa: the legislative, the executive and the judicial. This meant there was to be a General Assembly elected by the people to make laws, an elected governor to carry out the laws, and a Supreme Court appointed by the governor to decide disagreements over what the law really said. The new constitution listed the qualifications for the people in each of these branches of government, and it also described their duties.
The General Assembly
The Constitution of the state set up a plan for government without many laws telling how things were to be run or how people were to act. It was the duty of the General Assembly to make these laws. As the years went by, new laws were needed to address new problems. The General Assembly now meets every year to consider what new laws are needed or what old laws should be changed.
The General Assembly is divided into two separate parts: the House of Representatives and the Senate. The people of the state elect members of the General Assembly. A representative serves for two years, and a senator serves for four years. To be eligible for election to the General Assembly a person must be a citizen, have been a resident of the state for at least one year, and live in the district he or she represents. A representative must be at least 21 years old, and a senator must be at least 25 years old.
The head of state government is the governor. His/her responsibility is to carry out the laws passed by the General Assembly—and the governor must read and sign each law as it comes from the legislature. If the governor does not like a law, then he or she may refuse to sign it. This power, called a veto, gives the governor a lot of responsibility.
The governor also appoints Supreme Court justices, heads of government departments and commissions. The governor is elected by the people of the state. In order to run for the office of governor a candidate must be at least 30 years old, a citizen of the United States and a resident of Iowa for at least two years.
The Supreme Court
This branch of government makes decisions about the law. If there is a question about the meaning of a law, the judges make a final decision.
Members of the Iowa Supreme Court—called justices— are appointed by the governor. The appointment must be approved by a majority of the voters at an election. Each justice serves a term of eight years before voters vote to determine if they should be retained. At the age of 72, Iowa Supreme Court justices are required by law to retire from their role as justices.
- Margaret Atherton Bonney, Ed., “The Iowa Constitution,” The Goldfinch, (Spring 1976): 2.
Just as the national government had three separate branches, the 1857 constitution set up three branches of government for Iowa: the legislative, the executive and the judicial.
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