Moderate Republicans co-chair new group for retaining Supreme Court justices (updated)

Former Republican Governor Bob Ray is co-chairing a new group that will urge Iowans to retain three Supreme Court justices who are on the ballot:

The group, Fair Courts for US, plans to stage a direct mail and media advertising campaign as part of a statewide grassroots answer to several conservative advocacy groups that are urging Iowans to vote against retention of Chief Justice Marsha Ternus as well as Justices Michael Streit and David Baker.

Three of the four co-chairs are prominent Republicans: Ray, who was governor from 1969 to 1983, Art Neu, who was lieutenant governor from 1973 to 1979, and Sioux City attorney Dan Moore, a past-president of the Iowa State Bar Association and former secretary and treasurer of Bob Vander Plaats’ gubernatorial campaign. The fourth co-chair is Democrat Christie Vilsack, who was first lady from 1999 to 2007.

[Moore] said there are other avenues available to those who disagree with a court decision, such as appealing to a higher court or amending the state constitution, rather than targeting a judge or justice up for retention based just on one decision.

“The courts are accountable to the constitution and to the rule of law and not politicians. It’s not a popularity contest that’s run here,” Moore said. “(In) our system of justice, courts must look at the facts. They must apply the laws and make a determination for an outcome of a case. Our citizens deserve the very best courts that they can have access to and that’s what they have today.” […]

“Our system is far and away superior to those states where judges are elected every four years. That’s why Fair Courts For Us is urging Iowans to take a stand and vote ‘yes’ to retain the justices and preserve our system of jurisprudence,” Ray said.

I wish this effort every success, but I don’t know how much grassroots work can be accomplished with less than three weeks left before the election. According to the Secretary of State’s Office, nearly 250,000 Iowans had requested absentee ballots as of October 14, and nearly 120,000 ballots had already been returned.

I hope Fair Courts for Us has television and radio commercials featuring Ray ready to launch as soon as possible. Ray commands tremendous respect among Iowans who remember him as governor, and older Iowans are least likely to support the Supreme Court’s Varnum v Brien decision on marriage. Backers of the Iowa for Freedom effort to oust the judges have been advertising statewide for a month already and have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on the campaign.

Two other groups are trying to educate the public about the benefits of Iowa’s current judicial system: the Justice, Not Politics coalition and Iowan for Fair & Impartial Courts. However, those advocates are not explicitly urging Iowans to vote yes on retaining Ternus, Streit and Baker.

UPDATE: Fair Courts for Us started running this 60-second radio commercial in seven major Iowa markets on October 15. My transcript:

Sound of football game, tackle, referee’s whistle, sports announcer’s voice: And the flags are flying. Looks like a questionable call.

Referee’s voice: Unnecessary roughness.

Sports announcer: I think we’re gonna see some fans calling for these refs’ jobs.

Bob Ray: Listen, we’ll never agree with every call, but you shouldn’t fire the good referees over just one call. The same is true for the Iowa Supreme Court. I’m Bob Ray, a Republican and former Iowa governor. The Iowa Supreme Court has been making solid judgments over the years. The court protected Iowa families by requiring convicted sex offenders to live at least 2,000 feet away from a school or child care center, protected Iowa seniors, and protected our individual property rights. Please join me, Bob Ray, in turning over the ballot and voting yes, yes, and yes to retain the Iowa Supreme Court. There’s enough politics out there. We don’t need it in our courts.

Announcer: Paid for by Fair Courts for Us.

I wouldn’t have picked Iowa’s ineffective sex-offender residency restrictions as the best example of how the Supreme Court has worked for Iowans. This law clusters sex offenders in a few areas, and “many of those who work most closely with sex offenders and say restrictions are not working and public safety would benefit from change.” That’s not to say the Supreme Court’s decision on this law was incorrect (similar laws have been upheld in other states), but Iowans weren’t “protected” by the law.

In any event, this commercial is obviously targeting a conservative audience who might be inclined to vote against the judges, as well as senior citizens who probably remember Ray as governor.  

  • Skipping

    The skipping of the judge question could come back to bite us on this one.  I guess in this go around a skip is just as a good as a NO with people all upset about an issue that does nothing but help our economy, bur I digress.  

    • a few months ago

      I talked about that with someone who is knowledgeable about retention elections around the country. The general rule is the less said about retention, the better for the judges, because the people who don’t skip that part of the ballot tend to be more informed and likely to vote yes on the judges. This year’s election is unusual because there is so much publicity for the “no” side. I bet the skip rate will be a lot lower than usual. The question is whether the no campaign will inadvertently remind other people to vote yes.

      I was hoping Bob Vander Plaats would be front and center in the no campaign’s publicity, but he is smart enough not to do that.

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