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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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Editorial: Iowa Group 'Bullies' Judges

Election watchers who observed the role played by The Family Leader in Iowa’s judicial retention elections in 2010 and 2012 will note that the group remains active on the court front.  A Des Moines Register editorial  entitled “Family Leader Is Wrong to Try to Bully Judge”  covers recent action by the group, led by conservative activist Bob Vander Plaats.  A column in the same paper by columnist Rekha Basu takes aim at what it calls the group’s “vendetta campaign.”

According to the Register, The Family Leader refers to its part in a successful effort to unseat three Iowa Supreme Court Justices in 2010, in a direct threat against Polk County District Judge Karen Romano.   A recent ruling by Romano holds up implementation of an Iowa Board of Medicine regulation on medication abortions.

In a statement headlined “Remember the Romano,” The Family Leader references the 2010 judicial retention election and warns, “Apparently Judge Romano has not learned a lesson from that vote. The Family Leader encourages Iowans to remember Judge Karen Romano’s activism when she is up for retention in November 2016.

In its editorial, the Register  calls the statement a “pre-emptive attack on a judge” that “should not be tolerated in this state.”

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Test for IA Disclosure Law Seen in Court Elections Spending Complaint

An activist’s complaint with an Iowa election watchdog agency may provide a test of an Iowa disclosure law passed in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2010, a Des Moines Register editorial says.

The topic is in the news because of a collateral development. This week, the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board voted against removing its executive director from a probe of the complaint, the Associated Press reported.

In the complaint, activist Fred Karger alleges that the National Organization for Marriage violated state law by failing to disclose all of its donors when it pushed in 2010 and 2012 retention elections to oust four Iowa Supreme Court justices.

The ethics board’s executive director once clerked for one of the justices who was removed in 2010, and NOM sought her removal based on that employment and also on remarks she made in August that NOM contended were prejudicial.

The Register editorial says the recent proceedings make it clear that NOM is playing hardball in the matter. It says similar disclosure laws passed after Citizens United are coming under attack by special interest groups around the country, and hard questions will be weighed about Iowa’s law: Read more

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IA Justice Removed Three Years Ago Still Backs Retention Elections

Former Chief Justice Marsha Ternus of the Iowa Supreme Court was removed in a retention election almost three years ago amid an ouster campaign over a controversial court ruling.

Nonetheless, she still supports the retention (up-or-down) election process that is part of Iowa’s merit-based system for choosing judges, according to a Des Moines Register article.

It’s important for Iowans to remember that merit selection is the best means for getting qualified justices on the court, Justice Ternus said:

“I think what’s more significant is what we talked about today going forward and to make sure that we protect the merit selection that we have of judges here in Iowa. It’s the best way to make sure that we have a competent judiciary and one that will adhere to the rule of law.” Read more

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