New coalition forms to defend Iowa judicial system

More than 30 organization and several dozen “community leaders” have formed a new coalition called Justice, Not Politics. Former Lieutenant Governors Joy Corning (a Republican) and Sally Pederson (a Democrat) are co-chairing the coalition, which will counter the well-funded campaign to oust three Iowa Supreme Court justices up for retention this year. Pederson and Corning spoke to Radio Iowa’s Kay Henderson on September 27:

Pederson charges that Iowa for Freedom – the group now headed by former Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Vander Plaats – is trying to “hijack” the courts and using a quarter of a million dollars in out-of-state money to do it. “There is no Iowa for Freedom organization that you can write a check to. It is a project of the American Family Association out of Tupelo, Mississippi, and they don’t have the interests of Iowans at heart. They have their own agenda,” Pederson says. “The American Family Association is really a extremely outrageous, you know, right-wing group.”

The leaders of Iowa For Freedom say they’ll continue to educate Iowans about their right to “hold the court accountable” for the gay marriage ruling and they accuse Pederson and Corning of “scare tactics.”

Corning says judges shouldn’t be subjected to “political retribution” and Corning argues the three justices up for a retention vote this fall have met the right standard by showing an ability to uphold the law “fairly and consistently.”

“There is much work to be done to fight extremists who want to insert their narrow special interests into the one branch of government that should be free from politics,” Corning says.

Click here to view a list of Justice, Not Politics supporters. Many churches and religious organizations have signed on, and lots of the “community leaders” are clergy. I am not aware of any current Republican elected official or candidate who has spoken out for retaining the justices, but in addition to Corning, two other prominent former Republican politicians have joined the effort: Ambassador and former Iowa Senate President Mary Kramer, and former State Senator Maggie Tinsman.

Iowa’s judicial system is one of the finest in the country. Iowa’s merit selection and retention process keeps politics and campaign money out of our courts, safeguarding its fairness and impartiality. To keep it that way, Iowans from all political spectrums should resist efforts by one extremist group from Mississippi who are funding an effort to politicize our courts. If politics and campaign money are allowed into the courts, justice will be for sale.

Why a Coalition?

Groups from across the state are working together to counter the effort of extremists from hijacking Iowa’s courts. Justice, Not Politics is a broad based, nonpartisan coalition of organizations and Iowans across the political spectrum —- progressive to conservative; Republicans, Independents and Democrats —- all who are committed to protecting Iowa’s courts and our system of merit selection and retention.

The Iowa State Bar Association created Iowans for Fair & Impartial Courts earlier this year, but that pending 501(c)3 group cannot engage in direct political advocacy. Iowans for Fair & Impartial Courts has raised money for a public education campaign about the benefits of Iowa’s merit selection system for judges, but it cannot explicitly urge citizens to vote yes on retaining the Supreme Court justices.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Terry Branstad has tried to remain neutral on this issue, stating that “people should vote their conscience” on the judges. But as three law school deans wrote in this guest editorial for the Des Moines Register, the retention elections were not intended to be referenda on specific court rulings:

The merit selection process includes periodic votes on judges. Every eight years each member of the Supreme Court appears on the ballot with the simple question: Should this individual be retained for another term in office? The retention vote was designed for a very limited purpose, to provide a mechanism to remove a judge who was unfit for office, for example, because of corruption such as bribery, other unlawful conduct, or misconduct.

Those seeking to remove the three Supreme Court justices fail to recognize the substantial harm they will do to Iowa’s judicial system if they succeed. It would do serious harm to the rule of law in Iowa and the fair and impartial administration of justice if judges are removed from office through campaigns of political opponents because of the results reached in particular cases. It would be an open invitation to well-funded interests to band together and retaliate against judges. Inevitably, decisions would appear to be influenced by politics and ideology, not by the law and evidence in a case.

The three justices under attack have a record of integrity, competency and distinguished public service, and a “yes” vote on their retention is merited by the facts.

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