Court-bashing pastor finds judicial review he can believe in

Since last spring, I’ve thought conservatives who denied the Iowa Supreme Court’s authority to rule on marriage didn’t grasp the judicial review concept. But Reverend Cary K. Gordon of the Cornerstone World Outreach church in Sioux City proved me wrong with his prayer:

“Dear God, please allow the IRS to attack my church, so I can take them all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.”

Gordon says he’ll defy federal tax laws this month by urging his congregation to vote against the retention of three Supreme Court justices because of the ruling that effectively legalized same-sex marriage in Iowa. He’s asked 1,000 church leaders to join him, prompting a complaint to the Internal Revenue Service.

Churches and other nonprofit organizations are prohibited from directly advocating for or against candidates. Their tax-exempt status is at risk if they do, although the IRS rarely goes so far.

Gordon is among church leaders who feel the restriction is unconstitutional. He apparently sees no irony in seeking court protection.

Gordon has been recruiting Iowa clergy to preach a “no” vote on judicial retention for the past month. He thinks he has a strong case on First Amendment grounds. There’s plenty of legal precedent for requiring tax-exempt organizations to refrain from certain kinds of political advocacy. But I’m more amused by Gordon’s desire to have the courts strike down part of a tax code adopted by the people’s representatives. How is that different from the Iowa Supreme Court striking down a key provision of Iowa’s Defense of Marriage Act?

Supreme Court Chief Justice Marsha Ternus, one of three high court judges on the ballot this year, noted Gordon’s hypocrisy in a speech at Iowa State University yesterday:

“The pastor claims this law is unconstitutional, and has vowed to challenge the law – where? In the courts,” she said. “It seems the pastor is quite comfortable arguing the will of the people, as expressed in this federal law, can be declared void in the courts.”

Ternus also asserted that activists urging a no vote on retention “are blinded by their own ideology.”

“They simply refuse to accept that an impartial, legally sound and fair reading of the law can lead to an unpopular decision.” […]

One of the main arguments for those wishing to oust the justices is centered around the idea that the justices did not have the authority to overturn the marriage law. As she extensively points out, judicial review is entrenched in both the American and Iowan judicial tradition, seeing support from the 1787 Constitutional Convention and from the authors of the Iowa Constitution. […]

Critics have also said justices subverted the will of the people by overturning a state law that is supported by a majority of Iowans. Ternus refutes this claim and other claims of judicial activism by saying the court fulfilled its constitutional role by acting in the interests of protecting constitutionally protected rights.

“When ruling that a statute violates the constitution the court does not usurp the powers of the other branches of government, the court exercises its own authority,” she said. “The court is not legislating from the bench, it is resolving a dispute between the parties by declaring the legislature’s act unenforceable because it violates the will of the people as expressed in their constitution.”

I’m concerned about the retention vote, partly because the judges’ opponents are spending so much money, and partly because about 25 percent of voters typically vote against retention even in a year without controversy. Share any thoughts about these election in this thread.

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