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Iowans Want Fair and Impartial Courts, Chief Justice Says

cady1-300x224In his State of the Judiciary address this week, Chief Justice Mark Cady of the Iowa Supreme Court emphasized the importance of keeping politics out of the courts.

“We hear the call from Iowans for our courts to remain fair and impartial, independent and insulated from all political influences,” he said, according to The Des Moines Register.  “It is a call we continue to answer as we have in the past.”

Cady and Justices Daryl Hecht and Brent Appel are expected to stand for retention (up-or-down) election votes in November. In 2009, they participated in a controversial unanimous court ruling that permitted same-sex couples to wed. There was a backlash in 2010, when voters, in a contest marked by special interest spending, chose not to retain three other justices who faced retention election then. Read more

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We Are ‘Helping Other Iowans Solve Disputes,” IA Chief Justice Says

cady1-300x224Chief Justice Mark Cady of the Iowa Supreme Court sat down for an interview with the Newton Daily News, in advance of the court’s hearing arguments at the local high school. The court has held sessions around the state to inform the public about the judiciary and its workings, Cady said:

“We are Iowans helping other Iowans solve disputes. A lot of questions are addressed are, how is it that you relate to us? Coming out into the communities and having our court hearings in their communities help explain how we function in everyone’s lives.”

Cady will stand for retention (up-or-down) election next year. He was the author of a court opinion in 2009  that found it unconstitutional to deny civil marriage to same-sex couples. The following year, three Iowa justices were removed by voters in a retention election. Cady was Read more

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Review: A New Look Back at IA Court’s Controversial ‘Varnum’ Ruling

It’s not hard in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s marriage equality decision this year to forget all about the drama and significance of a pioneering ruling by the Iowa Supreme Court in 2009 in Varnum v. Brien. But a new book about the case offers an engaging and timely history lesson, according to a review in The Des Moines Register.

In Varnum, the Iowa high court became the first in the nation to decide unanimously in support of marriage equality, when it ruled that a state ban on marriages for same-sex couples violated the Iowa Constitution’s equal protection clause. But the story didn’t end there. Iowa had retention (up-or-down) elections for three of the justices the next year. After an influx of special interest spending, all three were unseated in an historic election.

While the justices had “prioritized the Constitution over their careers,” they did not know in advance that “they would become lightning rods in a national backlash against equal rights,” reviewer Michael C. Simpson writes. Not only did they lose their jobs, he adds, “Some of the justices received death threats; their children were bullied at school.” Read more

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Editorial: Respect Urged for High Court’s Role in Government

washington-supreme-court-building-washington-d-c-dc169With controversy continuing over recent blockbuster rulings of the Supreme Court, editorial boards across the nation are responding, and often rebutting politicians who have launched attacks on the court.

“It is easy to criticize the court. Liberals have done it. Conservatives have done it. But its rulings and place in the architecture of the federal government should be respected,” a Concord (N.H.) Monitor editorial said after cataloguing calls by Sen. Ted Cruz for retention elections of Supreme Court justices and by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker for a constitutional amendment that would let states define marriage. Read more

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Cruz Urges Retention Elections for Supreme Court Justices

ted-cruz-has-just-wrapped-up-his-epic-21-hour-defund-obamacare-talk-a-thonSen. Ted Cruz, a Republican presidential candidate, has fiercely criticized the Supreme Court over its recent marriage and health care act rulings and called for retention elections of Supreme Court justices.

Under the federal system for choosing judges, they get lifetime tenure in order to provide them independence and buffer them from prevailing political winds. Retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor said in 2012, after similar attacks on the courts during the presidential election season, that the U.S. court system “has served the nation quite well” (see Gavel Grab).

In an Iowa speech on Saturday, Cruz said, according to a Washington Post blog, “This week’s assault was but the latest in a long line of judicial assaults on our Constitution and Judeo-Christian values that have made America great.” The high court “has now forced the disaster of a health-care law called Obamacare on the American people and attempted to redefine an institution that was ordained by God.” In a National Review piece he called for up-or-down elections if a Supreme Court justice wants a new term every eight years, and if he or she were defeated, the justice could not serve on the high court again. Read more

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Legislation Would Strip Some Authority of Iowa Supreme Court

45960194-03085715Almost five years ago, voters removed three justices from the Iowa Supreme Court over a controversial ruling by the court about marriage for same-sex couples. Now, marriage for same-sex couples is the topic of anti-court legislation in the state.

According to Gavel to Gavel, a bill in the legislature would bar court registrars from granting marriage licenses to same-sex couples until a constitutional amendment on the topic is submitted to state voters, and it would bar the state Supreme Court from engaging in any appellate review of the marriage license ban.

The justices removed in the 2010 Iowa Supreme Court retention election had participated in a unanimous 2009 ruling that found it unconstitutional to deny civil marriage to same-sex couples. Gavel to Gavel is a publication of the National Center for State Courts, a Justice at Stake partner organization.

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Big Money Judicial Elections Returning to CA Supreme Court?

An election in 1986 brought sweeping changes to the California Supreme Court in what was compared to “a 100-year flood,” because of its unlikelihood, and now according to At the Lectern, another event may not be so far away.

The article cites The New Politics of Judicial Elections reports co-authored by Justice at Stake and The Brennan Center for Justice detailing how judicial elections across the country have become more expensive and politicized.

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Cady: How One Court Responded After Its Judges Were Attacked

cady1-300x224Almost four years after a political earthquake shook Iowa’s Supreme Court, Chief Justice Mark Cady says the benefits of the court’s subsequent outreach efforts — including holding oral arguments around the state, followed by well-attended public receptions — are “immeasurable.”

Justice Cady, in his keynote address to a Fair Courts State Summit hosted by Justice at Stake, described his court’s efforts to teach Iowans about its work and its role protecting people’s constitutional rights. The court has heard oral arguments in 13 communities since 2011, often considering locally originated appeals, and justices have visited with 100 high schools, colleges, and universities, he said.

There have been meetings with local newspaper editorial boards, and public receptions after the oral arguments in communities away from Des Moines, he said. While working on the road is less efficient, he said, “the benefits are immeasurable.”

“Lawyers and business leaders have joined hands in this effort, and together we’re beginning to strengthen and open up understanding, while giving the public a better perspective to see through unfair attacks against judges,” Justice Cady said. He has been credited with leading the outreach effort. Read more

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Blog: Iowa a Crucible for Attacks on Judges

Regular readers of Gavel Grab are familiar with Iowa’s turbulent judicial retention (yes-or-no) elections in recent years. In 2010, three Iowa Supreme Court justices were ousted in retaliation for a controversial marriage ruling. In 2012, a similar ouster effort against a fourth justice was turned back, and the justice was retained.

For those less familiar with this history, the Talking Points Memo blog recaps much of it in fixing a spotlight on a more recent, related event: The Family Leader group posted last month an attack on Polk County District Judge Karen Romano, saying she apparently “has not learned a lesson” from” the 2010 election (see Gavel Grab). The Family Leader and some outside groups sought the justices’ removal then.

Judge Romano recently stirred controversy for some when she stayed a new Iowa Board of Medicine rule adopted to regulate medication abortions.

Talking Points Memo writer Andy Kopsa sees in Iowa — and other states — a growing threat to fair and impartial courts through retention election ouster efforts driven by special interests for political reasons: Read more

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Iowa High Court Dissenting Opinions are Increasing

Dissenting opinions from the Iowa Supreme Court have increased significantly since a retention (up-or-down) election  in 2010 when critics successfully campaigned to oust three justices over a controversial decision about marriage.

A news article in The Gazette reported that cases with dissents have increased from six in 2009 to 22 in 2011-12 and 34 in 2012-13. The number of dissents remains relatively low, the newspaper said.

The article explored theories that might explain the increasing dissents. Ex-Justice Michael Streit, who was among those removed in the 2010 election, said the court on which he sat put more emphasis on reaching consensus than is now the case. Read more

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