The Court System

Even before Iowa became a state there were laws and rules for people living in the area. But people didn't always follow the laws. So right away the early leaders and settlers knew there would have to be courts to deal with people who broke the law. 

As soon as Iowa became a territory (the stage before statehood) in 1838 a court system was set up. There was a Supreme Court and lower courts. Judges and justices of the peace made decisions about lawbreakers.

The Supreme Court

When Iowa became a state in 1846 the Iowa constitution set up a court system. It established a Supreme Court and lower courts. 

The Supreme Court is the highest court in the state. It usually hears cases that come to it from lower courts. Sometimes it hears cases that have not gone through the lower courts. Besides hearing cases, the Supreme Court has other duties. It deals with issues related to lawyers, such as the exam that all lawyers must pass to become a lawyer. Also, the Supreme Court oversees problems when lawyers disobey the law. 

At first there were three Supreme Court justices or judges. But as the state grew, the number of cases increased. So the state legislature increased the number of justices. Now there are seven justices on the Supreme Court in Iowa. Decisions made by the state Supreme Court are final decisions. If the decision deals with federal issues, the decision made by the state Supreme Court may be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Lower Courts

Before 1973 there were many different forms of trials for people who were accused of breaking the laws. There were justice of the peace, mayor, municipal and police courts. In 1973 the legislature abolished these courts. 

The legislature set up an Iowa district court system. Sometimes it is called the trial court system. Most court cases begin in the district courts. Cases dealing with personal injury and traffic offenses are tried in district or trial courts. Also, divorce, child support and custody cases are tried in the district courts. Trial courts also hear cases about wills and domestic abuse. When people are disagreeing about contracts they go to district courts. And when individuals or groups believe their freedoms are being abused, those cases go to district courts.

The state of Iowa is divided in eight court districts. The legislature decided the size and shape of each district. There are officers of the court in each district. Officers include judges and other people who help make the court system run smoothly.

Courts of Appeals

In 1970 the Supreme Court was having a hard time keeping up with all the cases. So the legislature set up another level of courts to help the Supreme Court judges. The new courts were called Court of Appeals. 

The judges in the Court of Appeals hear cases transferred by the Supreme Court. If a person is unhappy with the decision of the Court of Appeals, he or she may ask the Supreme Court to look at the case. 

Iowa has had a court system since 1838. Since then some changes have been made to the system. The types of courts and the number of judges have changed. But giving an accused person a fair trial has not changed. Providing a place to settle a disagreement has not changed. Ensuring that people are treated fairly regardless of their ethnic background has not changed. Iowa's court system has been doing those things for many years.


What are ten ways that the court system in Iowa affects your life today?

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