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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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Leaders Urge IA Board to Probe Court Elections Spending Complaint

Two prominent, bipartisan defenders of fair and impartial courts in Iowa are using a Des Moines Register commentary to urge the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board to investigate a complaint alleging the violation of state law during state Supreme Court retention elections in 2010 and 2012.

Political activist Fred Karger alleged in June that the National Organization for Marriage had violated state law by failing to disclose all of its donors when it pushed in the retention elections to oust four Iowa Supreme Court justices (see Gavel Grab).

The newspaper commentary was written by Sally Pederson and Joy Corning, former Democratic and Republican lieutenant governors, respectively, and honorary co-chairs of Justice Not Politics, a nonpartisan coalition. They wrote:

“There is no question that donations will continue to pour into our state, but unless we discover definitively whether the law was broken, Iowa will be open for business to any group that wants to use its limitless campaign funds to influence our courts.” Read more

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In Wake of Marriage Rulings, More Pitched Battles Ahead Over Courts?

Some of the harshest attacks launched against  fair and impartial courts over single decisions were sparked by state judges’ votes on issues surrounding marriage for same-sex couples.

Now that the Supreme Court has issued two marriage rulings, some experts predict there may be more hard-fought court fights ahead, especially as advocates challenge state bans on marriage between same-sex couples.

Although the Supreme Court did not rule this week on a right to marriage, said Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, its opinion striking down a key section of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) gives advocates of gay rights more fodder to challenge marriage bans.

“This is the beginning of a whole new round of jurisprudence,” Romero told the Chicago Tribune. “It’s enormously significant.”

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Fallout From Iowa Court Elections: Complaint Names Outside Group

In a complaint filed with an Iowa ethics board, political activist Fred Karger alleged on Wednesday 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.

Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board Executive Director Megan Tooker said her board would look at the complaint to see if an investigation is warranted, according to a Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier article.

Karger was planning to file a related complaint on Thursday in Washington, D.C., Radio Iowa reported.

In 2009, the Iowa Supreme Court found it unconstitutional to deny civil marriage to same-sex couples. The following year, an ouster campaign funded in large part by out-of-state interest groups led to the removal in a retention (up-or-down) election of three Supreme Court justices who had participated in the ruling. A similar attempt in 2012 to remove Justice David Wiggins from the bench did not succeed.

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Iowa Court Ruling on Birth Certificates Tracks ‘Varnum’ Reasoning

The Iowa Supreme Court has ruled unanimously that in the case of same-sex marriages, both parents must be permitted to have their names listed on a newborn child’s birth certificate.

The court ruling was premised on the same reasoning applied in Varnum v. Brien, according to a Washington Blade article. That Iowa Supreme Court ruling in 2009 found it unconstitutional to deny civil marriage to same-sex couples. The following year, an ouster campaign funded in large part by out-of-state interest groups led to the removal in a retention (up-or-down) election of three Supreme Court justices who had participated in Varnum.

A similar attempt in 2012 to remove Justice David Wiggins from the bench did not succeed. Justice Wiggins (photo) wrote the recent decision about birth certificates.

“It is important for our laws to recognize that married lesbian couples who have children enjoy the same benefits and burdens as married opposite-sex couples who have children,” he wrote, according to a Los Angeles Times article. Read more

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Justice Wiggins Speaks on Raising Visibility of the Court

At West High School in Iowa this week, state Supreme Court Justice David Wiggins spoke on how the high court has raised its public profile since he joined the bench a decade ago.

According to the Iowa City Press-Citizen, Wiggins declined to speak on last year’s retention vote when he was the lone justice on the ballot.

“I don’t talk about that. It’s done and done. I didn’t campaign before and I’m not campaigning now. People voted the way they did and that’s how it turned out,” Wiggins said.

Wiggins did not speak much about the constitutional case on marriage for same-sex couples that led to a challenge from conservative groups against his being retained. Instead, he focused on the role the courts play in upholding the rights of all Iowans.


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Article: Iowa Supreme Court has Weathered a ‘Perfect Storm’

The Iowa Supreme Court has weathered a “perfect storm” of anti-judicial sentiment that began in 2010, says State Court Administrator David Boyd.

A controversial decision in 2009 concerning same-sex marriage was followed by state budget cuts that brought disruption to the court, the WCF Courier quoted Boyd as saying. In 2010, Chief Justice Marsha Ternus and Associate Judges Michael Streit and David Baker were ousted in a retention election.

Gov. Terry Branstad has since appointed three new justices, but a backlog of cases developed during the turnover period. Boyd says the court is now back on track.

“I think as an organization, we’ve made great strides. I think there’s a lot less angst than there was a few years ago,” he said.

Things continued to improve in 2012 when Justice David Wiggins withstood a negative, anti-retention campaign and maintained his place on the bench. Boyd says it was due to the work of the Iowa State Bar Association and judicial advocacy organizations.

“The way I view 2010, it was kind of like the perfect storm. I think there were a lot of people – at least those that talked to me – who just didn’t think it could happen and consequently maybe didn’t turn the ballot over and vote or didn’t talk to their family and friends,” Boyd said.

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Former Iowa Justices Speak on ‘Political Battlegrounds’ in Courts

On Wednesday, former Iowa Supreme Court Justices Marsha Ternus, Michael Streit and David Baker spoke at the Colorado Judicial Institute’s 10th Annual Judicial Excellence for Colorado dinner. The three spoke on the importance of an independent judiciary and expounded upon being ousted from the bench for political reasons, according to the Denver Business Journal.

All three of the justices were removed from the bench in 2010 in a retention election after they ruled same-sex marriage constitutional in Varnum v. Brien (see Gavel Grab). Streit said groups outside Iowa spent almost $2 million in a campaign against them.

Ternus, Streit and Baker all agreed that they were caught “flat-footed,” and didn’t know how to defend themselves against the negative campaign. “The business community’s response to the [ouster] campaign was almost non-existent,” Baker said.

Ternus argued that the legal community as well as the business community stand to gain from having an independent judiciary. Companies want to know the judges will follow the rule of law, she said. Read more

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Thursday Gavel Grab Briefs

In these other dispatches about fair and impartial courts:

  • In Pennsylvania, six judges are suing to invalidate the state’s mandatory retirement law for judges, reports the Wall Street Journal Law Blog. “To be a good judge requires good judgment, and judgment is a function of, inter alia, age and experience. Judicial performance thus frequently peaks late in life,” states the complaint filed by the judges.
  • On Tuesday, judges from all over New Mexico traveled to Santa Fe to testify before the Legislative Finance Committee. According to the Associated Press, the judges are looking to get a 3 percent increase in funding for next year’s budget.
  • The retention of Iowa State Supreme Court Justice David Wiggins was a victory for “those who have faith in the state’s merit system for selecting judges,” states a Gazette op-ed.

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Editorial: Iowa Voters Backed ‘Integrity of Our Courts’

With their Election Day votes to retain Iowa Supreme Court Justice David Wiggins, a majority of Iowa voters signaled they “have had enough of attempts to politicize courts in our state,” a Sioux City Journal editorial said.

The editorial was headlined, “Iowans reject continued politicization of courts.” The editorial contrasted this year’s vote to retain Justice Wiggins with a successful campaign in 2010 to remove three justices from the bench. Social conservatives have sought to unseat all four justices over a 2009 ruling, Varnum vs. Brien, that Iowa’s constitution protects the right of same-sex couples to marry. The editorial said:

“With the decision to retain Wiggins, Iowans rejected the most recent attempt to extract political retaliation for the unanimous, but controversial Varnum vs. Brien ruling and delivered a message of opposition to the short-sighted injection of politics into our state’s judicial system. In short, they stood in support of the integrity of our courts.”

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