# Marsha Ternus

The Tom and Ruth Harkin Center: It's official

Julie Gammack first published this piece on her Substack, Julie Gammack’s Iowa Potluck.

No, it’s not just another new building. It is a liberation movement.

Usually, a dedication to a new building isn’t big news except for those with a personal stake in the construction. Ribbon-cutting ceremonies are pro forma events that give those involved a deserved acknowledgment. Funders show up to congratulate one another.

Last Saturday, August 20, was all of that, but oh, so, much more.

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Susan Christensen is least experienced Iowa chief justice in decades

Less than nineteen months after being appointed to the Iowa Supreme Court, Susan Christensen is now that body’s chief justice. Justice David Wiggins had served as acting leader on the high court since the unexpected passing of Chief Justice Mark Cady in November.

When Governor Kim Reynolds, Republican lawmakers, and one or more Supreme Court justices schemed last year to end Cady’s term early, Justice Thomas Waterman was widely seen as the chief-in-waiting. However, by the time Reynolds appointed Cady’s replacement, Dana Oxley, in late January, multiple sources indicated Waterman was no longer interested in the job. The seven justices elected Christensen on February 24.

It’s been many years since a justice has risen so quickly to the Iowa Supreme Court’s most senior position.

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Smooth sailing for Iowa Supreme Court justices up for retention in 2016

Three of the seven Iowa Supreme Court justices who concurred in the historic Varnum v Brien ruling on marriage equality lost their jobs in the 2010 judicial retention elections. A fourth survived a similar campaign against retaining him in 2012.

The last three Varnum justices, including the author of the unanimous opinion striking down our state’s Defense of Marriage Act, will appear on Iowa ballots this November. At this writing, no one seems to be organizing any effort to vote them off the bench. Iowa’s anti-retention campaigns in 2010 and 2012 were well under way by the end of August, but the social conservatives who spearheaded those efforts have shown no interest in repeating the experience.

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Tom Harkin's legacy: links and discussion thread

U.S. Senator Tom Harkin’s been giving a lot of interviews lately as he wraps up a 40-year career in Congress this month. I’ve posted some of the newsworthy excerpts after the jump, along with the full text of Senator Chuck Grassley’s widely-praised tribute to his colleague on the Senate floor.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread. UPDATE: James Q. Lynch’s feature for the Cedar Rapids Gazette on “The Harkin Legacy” is a good read.  

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Where are they now? Marsha Ternus edition

Catching up on news from last week, former Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Marsha Ternus will serve as director of the new Tom Harkin Institute for Public Policy and Citizen Engagement at Drake University in Des Moines. The Harkin Institute was originally established at Iowa State University, the senator’s alma mater, but that arrangement fell apart earlier this year. Harkin confirmed in June that he planned to donate his papers to Drake.

In one of the most disappointing election results of my lifetime, a majority of Iowans voted against retaining Ternus and two of her fellow Supreme Court justices in November 2010. She had served on the court for 17 years, the last four as chief justice. Ternus had a “major positive impact” on the justice system during her tenure. Governor Terry Branstad appointed Ternus to the high court but said nothing in her defense as social conservatives trashed her alleged “activism” during the anti-retention campaign.

After the jump I’ve posted Drake University’s announcement of the Ternus appointment as well as her official bio.  

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Biden backs marriage equality--or does he?

Vice President Joe Biden appeared to make news on “Meet the Press” yesterday with a clear statement backing full marriage rights for same-sex couples. Obama administration staff immediately tried to deny that Biden had said anything newsworthy.

UPDATE: Added information below about the debate over endorsing marriage equality in the Democratic Party’s national platform and the honor three ousted Iowa Supreme Court justices will receive later today.

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Impeachment going nowhere and other Iowa Supreme Court news

Last week, a group of conservative Iowa House Republicans finally made good on their promise to introduce articles of impeachment against the four remaining Iowa Supreme Court justices who concurred in the 2009 Varnum v Brien decision on marriage. The impeachment bills won’t make it out of committee, let alone the Iowa House, but there may be some political fallout from the effort.

After the jump I examine the articles of impeachment, future prospects for their backers and recent news related to the 2012 judicial retention elections.

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Events coming up this week

Sometime this week the Iowa Senate will consider Senate File 390, the nuclear energy rip-off bill Bleeding Heartland discussed here and here. MidAmerican Energy, which would benefit from the bill, has given generously to Iowa legislators from both parties and to political action committees. Constituents need to urge senators to reject this bill, which would hurt consumers, or at least table it. MidAmerican is in only the first year of a three-year feasibility study on nuclear power in Iowa. The Senate switchboard number is (515) 281-3371, or you can e-mail your senator. The Sierra Club Iowa chapter created an easy e-mail form here and posted a four-page pdf with more background information: “MidAmerican Energy Company’s Misguided Pursuit of Nuclear Power: removing barriers, providing incentives, and skirting the existing regulatory process.”

The Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation is hiring a Land Projects Associate to “provide support for 40-50 active land protection projects.” Click the link for the job description and skill requirements. Applications are due May 2. The 125-acre Bernau Prairie in Kossuth County is one recent example of a completed INHF land protection project.  

The Women, Food and Agriculture Network is accepting nominations for the second annual “Sustainable Farming Mom of the Year” award. Click here to view the 2010 finalists and winner. Nominations are due by 5 pm central time on Friday, May 6.

Trees Forever is seeking Iowans age 25 or younger to serve on its Youth Advisory Council. Applicants may be in high school, college or out of school. The Trees Forever site has more information on the council’s role.

Details on lots of events coming up this week are after the jump. Please post a comment or send me an e-mail if you know of another public event that should be mentioned here.

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Branstad names Mansfield, Waterman and Zager to Iowa Supreme Court

Governor Terry Branstad today named Edward Mansfield, Thomas Waterman and Bruce Zager to fill the three Iowa Supreme Court vacancies created by last November’s judicial retention vote. Mansfield practiced law in Des Moines for many years before Governor Chet Culver appointed him to the Iowa Court of Appeals in 2009. Waterman has long been an attorney in private practice in Pleasant Valley. Zager practiced law in Waterloo before Governor Tom Vilsack named him to the First District Court in 1999. He “spent 18 years in private practice and served part time as a Black Hawk Assistant County Attorney for 12 years.”

KCCI posted Mansfield’s interview with the State Judicial Nominating Commission here, Waterman’s interview here and Zager’s interview here. Branstad privately interviewed the nine finalists for the Supreme Court vacancies last week. The governor’s official statements announcing all three appointments are after the jump.

All three appointees are registered Republicans. Waterman has made the most political contributions, primarily to Republicans, and his $7,500 donation to Branstad’s gubernatorial campaign attracted some media attention last month. (Waterman also gave $250 to the attorney general campaign of Brenna Findley, who is Branstad’s legal counsel.) Asked whether the donation to his campaign made him uncomfortable, Branstad joked, “No, I think that’s great […] Listen I wish more of them had contributed.” He added that private citizens “have a right to contribute and participate in the political process,” and that Waterman’s donation would not influence his decision.

In a statement, Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Cady praised the three appointees as well as Branstad and members of the judicial nominating commission. I’ve posted that statement after the jump. Cady’s colleagues chose him as chief justice after voters rejected Marsha Ternus, David Baker and Michael Streit. Once Mansfield, Waterman and Zager are sworn in, all seven Iowa Supreme Court will hold a new election for chief justice.

Although all the appointees are qualified, I find it disappointing that Iowa will have an all-male Supreme Court for the first time since 1986. The only woman on the short list, University of Iowa law professor Angela Onwuachi-Willig, had many qualifications but had no chance of being appointed by Branstad, for obvious reasons I discussed here. In fact, the governor didn’t even pretend to think seriously about appointing Onwuachi-Willig. Before interviewing the finalists, he publicly expressed regret that the State Judicial Nominating Commission didn’t send him more women candidates.

I share Cris Douglass’ view that including only one woman on the short list sent to Branstad reflects poorly on the nominating process. After the jump I’ve posted excerpts from a guest column Douglass published in the Des Moines Register on February 4. She notes that the men and women who applied for Iowa Supreme Court vacancies had comparable experience and backgrounds, yet the men had a far better chance of becoming finalists. Seeing highly qualified woman applicants passed over gives the impression that either commissioners had a conscious or unconscious bias toward male applicants, or perhaps that some sought to force an embarrassing choice on Branstad. He appointed both previous women who have served on Iowa’s high court (Linda Neuman and Marsha Ternus) and likely would have appointed a woman if any politically palatable female candidate had been a finalist.

Adding three Republicans to the state Supreme Court is unlikely to end legislative efforts to reform Iowa’s judicial nominating process or restrict the Supreme Court’s powers. More on that in a post to come. Share any comments related to the Iowa Supreme Court in this thread.

UPDATE: I’ve added below the statement from former Iowa Lieutenants Governor Sally Pederson and Joy Corning on behalf of the Justice Not Politics coalition. That nonpartisan coalition supports keeping the merit selection system Iowa has used for choosing judges since 1962. Justice Not Politics leaders recently submitted more than 3,200 signatures to Iowa House and Senate leaders calling for an end to “any conversation about impeaching Supreme Court justices.” Some conservative Republicans have advocated impeaching the four remaining justices who concurred in the 2009 Varnum v Brien ruling on marriage. The effort is unlikely to clear the Iowa House Judiciary Committee.

SECOND UPDATE: The Des Moines Register notes that Iowa is now one of only three states with no women on its highest court. In an interview, Branstad “declined to answer a question about whether he’d received a satisfactory list of candidates from the commission.”

That same Des Moines Register article quotes Iowa House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rich Anderson as praising the state’s “great judicial merit selection process.”

At the bottom of this post I’ve added more reaction to the Mansfield, Waterman and Zager appointments.

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Commission sends Iowa Supreme Court short list to Branstad

After interviewing 60 applicants for the three vacancies on the Iowa Supreme Court this week, the State Judicial Nominating Commission sent Governor Terry Branstad a list of nine candidates on January 27. After the jump I’ve posted the press release naming the nine finalists. Five are lower-court judges (four district court, one appeals court), three are attorneys in private practice, and one is on the University of Iowa law school faculty. Branstad has to select three appointees within the next thirty days. Click here for information about and writing samples by all 60 applicants.

My first thought on reading the short list was that going forward, Iowa’s high court will have no women justices for the first time in many years. Twelve women applied for the Supreme Court vacancies, including District Court Judge Annette Scieszinski of Ottumwa and two assistant attorneys general, Jeanie Vaudt and Elisabeth Reynoldson. Since former Chief Justice Marsha Ternus was not retained by Iowa voters and had been the only woman on the court, I expected the commission to include at least a couple of women on the nominees list sent to Branstad. However, only University of Iowa Professor Angela Onwuachi-Willig made the short list, and I see zero chance Branstad will select her. It’s not that she is the youngest of the nine candidates; at her age (37), Branstad was governor of Iowa. The salient fact is that Onwuachi-Willig submitted a friend of the court brief in the Varnum v Brien case, supporting the plaintiffs who were seeking to have the Defense of Marriage Act struck down. I can’t imagine any scenario in which Branstad chooses a public supporter of marriage equality for a judgeship.

Nathan Tucker of the recently-formed conservative 501(c)4 group Iowa Judicial Watch posted the party affiliations and campaign donation history of all nine finalists, as well as links to their application materials and interviews with the judicial nominating commission. Eight of the finalists refused to fill out Iowa Judicial Watch’s questionnaire. Appeals Court Judge Edward Mansfield filled out most of the lengthy document but declined to answer question 26, containing some three dozen more specific questions about his “judicial ideology.” Still, Tucker took a cheap shot at Mansfield, stating, “Though a registered Republican, Mansfield’s wife has donated good and services to Planned Parenthood.” Dangling modifiers aside, donations by Mansfield’s wife don’t necessarily reflect the judge’s views and certainly don’t affect his competence to serve on the Iowa Supreme Court. Looks to me like Tucker wanted to signal to The Iowa Republican blog’s readership that they should oppose Mansfield despite his Republican affiliation.

A more extensive update on news related to the Iowa Supreme Court is in progress. Meanwhile, share any relevant thoughts in this thread.

P.S. Before the commission began interviewing candidates, Iowa House Judiciary Committee Chairman Richard Anderson withdrew his application to serve on the Iowa Supreme Court.

UPDATE: Only two women have ever served on the Iowa Supreme Court: Linda Neuman from 1986 to 2003 and Marsha Ternus from 1993 to the end of 2010. If appointed by Branstad (she won’t be), Onwuachi-Willig, who is black, would be the first ethnic minority on the Iowa Supreme Court.

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Lawyers drop effort to keep ousted Supreme Court justices on bench

Three attorneys who are challenging last month’s judicial retention elections today withdrew their request for an injunction to allow Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Marsha Ternus and Justices David Baker and Michael Streit to continue serving after December 31. The attorneys filed their lawsuit last week, saying the retention vote was illegal because the Iowa Constitution stipulates that judges “shall at such judicial election stand for retention in office on a separate ballot which shall submit to the question of whether such judge shall be retained in office […].” Lynda Waddington reports today that the lawsuit will go forward, but plaintiffs dropped their request to let Ternus, Baker and Streit continue to serve after learning that “the Iowa Judicial Branch and the justices removed from service were not in favor of it.”

A court will consider this lawsuit sometime next year. I believe it will go nowhere for reasons I discussed here. Iowa has been holding judicial retention elections in conjunction with general elections for nearly five decades. No one has ever demanded that voters be provided special ballots for the retention vote. IowaVoter points out that when Iowans approved the constitutional amendment on replacing judicial elections in 1962, lever machines rather than paper ballots were widely used. I share IowaVoter’s reading of the relevant passage in the constitution: it means that there must be a separate ballot line for each judge, so voters aren’t asked to retain or not retain the judges as a group.

Which do you think will get shot down first, Bleeding Heartland readers? This lawsuit challenging the legality of the retention vote, or statehouse Republicans’ efforts to impeach the remaining four Supreme Court justices?

Any comments about Iowa’s judicial system are welcome in this thread. I believe an impeachment spectacle during the 2011 legislative session will only make it harder for Governor-elect Terry Branstad to get lawmakers to pass the modest reform he favors (requiring partisan balance for judicial nominating commissions).

Catch-up thread on the Iowa Supreme Court

Fallout from last month’s vote against retaining Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Marsha Ternus and Justices Michael Streit and David Baker continues to make the news almost daily.

Follow me after the jump for links and analysis on the timetable for replacing Ternus, Streit and Baker, efforts to change Iowa’s system for choosing judges, political pressure on the remaining justices, and how the retention vote will affect the 2012 elections.

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Battle brewing over Iowa Supreme Court nominations

Judicial nominating commissions will soon begin evaluating possible replacements for Iowa Supreme Court Justices Marsha Ternus, Michael Streit and David Baker. The law gives the commissions 60 days to submit a short list of candidates for judgeships to the governor, which means soon to be former Governor Chet Culver could nominate justices before Governor-elect Terry Branstad is sworn in. Branstad said yesterday that he should appoint the new members of the high court:

“I think it would be inappropriate to have a governor that was just rejected by the voters try to rush through appointments to a court when the court was just rejected as well. I think we need to really sit down and think this thing through in a really careful way,” Branstad says. “But really my focus is on jobs. That’s why the people of Iowa elected me as governor and that’s where I’m going to put my focus in the days ahead.”

Culver has not promised to let Branstad appoint the new justices. A November 3 statement from the governor’s office said only this:

“I am reviewing the matter carefully to ensure the judicial selection process that is utilized now is consistent with the Iowa Constitution, with Iowa law, and with past practices used in the course of both Democratic and Republican administrations in instances when multiple vacancies in our appellate courts have been created simultaneously.”

Meanwhile, Republican Party of Iowa Chairman Matt Strawn says it would be “unconscionable” for Culver “to thumb your finger in the eyes of the voters who just repudiated those Supreme Court Justices and, quite frankly, repudiated you and the one party, Democrat rule in Des Moines.” Strawn also called for “a further discussion too on how we change the way judges are nominated and selected in this state as well, because I think that too is part of the problem.” Getting rid of Iowa’s judicial nominating commissions would require a constitutional amendment, but a new law could make minor changes. For instance, Branstad has endorsed efforts to require partisan balance on the judicial nominating commissions.

The Supreme Court has already heard some oral arguments in this year’s caseload. It’s not clear whether the four remaining justices will issue rulings on those cases or rehear the oral arguments once replacements for Ternus, Streit and Baker have been selected.

The November 4 edition of the Des Moines Register published a map showing the judicial retention vote by Iowa county. There was a strong urban/rural split in the voting. In seven counties, more than 70 percent of votes cast on retention said no to all three judges. In 48 counties, the no votes on retention totaled between 60 and 70 percent. In 34 counties, the no votes totaled between 50 and 60 percent. In Clinton County, Streit and Ternus received a majority of votes for retention, but the yes votes for Baker fell below 50 percent. All three judges received a majority of yes votes in the remaining nine counties: Winneshiek (Decorah area), Black Hawk (Waterloo/Cedar Falls), Story (Ames), Polk (Des Moines), Linn (Cedar Rapids), Johnson (Iowa City), Muscatine, Scott (Quad Cities), and Jefferson (Fairfield area). I will update this post with a link to the map if I find it on the Register’s website.

UPDATE: Thanks to Bleeding Heartland user ragbrai08 for posting the map in the comments below. I’ve posted it after the jump as well.

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Supreme Court justices pay price for upholding equality

The retention election results for Iowa Supreme Court justices were a particularly low point on a generally dismal night. Never before had Iowans failed to retain a Supreme Court justice. Thanks to one unpopular ruling, unofficial results show Chief Justice Marsha Ternus received 45.0 percent yes votes and 55.0 percent no votes. Justice David Baker received 45.75 percent yes and 54.25 percent no. Justice Michael Streit received 45.6 percent yes and 54.4 percent no. Ternus spent 17 years on the high court, four of them as chief justice. Streit served for nine years and Baker just two.

It was bad luck that so many justices came up for retention in the first year following the Varnum v Brien ruling. The Des Moines Register reported that only Supreme Court Justice David Wiggins is up for retention in 2012, and the other three current justices won’t face the voters until 2016. The last group includes Justice Mark Cady, who wrote the decision striking down Iowa’s Defense of Marriage Act.

All lower-court Iowa judges appear to have been retained, including three who were targeted by some social conservatives. In Polk County, fifth circuit District Court Judge Robert Hanson received 66.34 percent yes votes, and District Court Judge Scott Rosenberg received 68.84 percent yes votes. Robocalls paid for by a conservative group urged Polk County residents to reject both judges. Hanson issued the lower-court ruling in Varnum v Brien in August 2007. Rosenberg signed a waiver allowing two men to marry after Hanson’s decision was announced, before an appeal put a stay on that decision.

In Sioux City, third circuit District Court Judge Jeffrey Neary received 58.5 percent yes votes. Conservatives tried and failed to oust him in 2004 and again this year, because in 2003 he granted a divorce to a lesbian couple who had a civil union from Vermont. At the time, Neary didn’t realize both parties seeking that divorce were women.

The judicial retention vote doesn’t affect same-sex couples’ marriage rights in Iowa. Voters rejected an initiative to call a constitutional convention, so the only way to overturn marriage equality would be to pass a constitutional amendment through the normal path. The new Republican majority in the Iowa House will approve a constitutional amendment restricting marriage to one man and one woman. Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal may or may not be able to keep that amendment from passing the Iowa Senate. If the legislature approves a marriage amendment in 2011 or 2012, a separately elected Iowa House and Senate would have to approve it again in 2013 or 2014 before it could appear on the 2014 general election ballot. At that point, the amendment would require a simple majority of yes votes statewide to be added to the Iowa Constitution.

Share any relevant thoughts in this thread.

New Register poll is bad news for Democrats, Supreme Court justices

The latest Iowa poll for the Des Moines Register finds Republicans leading the gubernatorial and U.S. Senate races and Iowa’s Supreme Court justices likely to be ousted. Selzer and Co sampled 805 likely Iowa voters between October 26 and 29.

Terry Branstad leads Governor Chet Culver 50 percent to 38 percent. That’s down from a 19-point lead in the Register’s September poll, but still a comfortable advantage. Culver’s campaign released an internal poll last week showing a much tighter race, with Branstad ahead 46-40. I had assumed Republican internal polling also showed Culver gaining, because the Cook Political Report just shifted its rating on the Iowa’s governor’s race from safe Republican to leaning Republican. I don’t think they would make that rating change if private polling showed Branstad at 50 percent with a double-digit lead.

Kathie Obradovich blogged tonight that Culver leads by 9 percent among respondents who had already voted, even though he trails by 12 percent among the whole sample. The Register’s other piece on the new poll refers to “the electorate’s conservative profile” but gives no details about the partisan breakdown of the sample. I will update this post if more details emerge about the poll’s demographics.

Selzer and Co found Senator Chuck Grassley leading Roxanne Conlin 61 percent to 30 percent, virtually the same margin as in the Register’s September Iowa poll.

The news for Iowa Supreme Court justices wasn’t much better:

A third of likely Iowa voters say they will vote to retain Chief Justice Marsha Ternus and Justices David Baker and Michael Streit. Thirty-seven percent say they will vote to remove all three. Ten percent plan to retain some. The rest either don’t plan to vote on judicial retention or haven’t made up their minds.

I thought it was foolish for the anti-retention groups to feature Representative Steve King in their radio commercials, but if voters throw out the judges, King will be able to take some credit.

Obradovich didn’t give poll numbers for the Congressional races but noted, “Mariannette Miller-Meeks appears to have the best chance of any of the GOP challengers to unseat an incumbent Democrat.” That would be quite an achievement, since Iowa’s second district has the strongest Democratic lean. However, Miller-Meeks has been campaigning hard, and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s latest commercial against her is atrocious. It wouldn’t surprise me if that ad drives more voters toward Miller-Meeks than toward incumbent Dave Loebsack.

Iowa Democrats need to get out the vote and hope the Register’s poll contains faulty assumptions about who will turn out on Tuesday.

UPDATE: One positive sign for Loebsack is the large lead Democrats have in early voting in the IA-02 counties (pdf file).

SECOND UPDATE: The best news in the poll: Tom Miller 45, Brenna Findley 34.

Findley, a 34-year-old Dexter lawyer and tea party favorite, has spent more on advertising than Miller, who was first elected in 1978. However, Miller leads Findley among independent voters by 20 percentage points and nets a larger share of support from Democrats than Findley receives from Republicans.

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A Steve King radio ad and other judicial retention vote news

The big purple Judge Bus completed its Iowa tour on October 28, but the groups urging Iowans to oust three Supreme Court justices aren’t winding down their voter persuasion efforts. Representative Steve King has recorded a radio commercial asking Iowans to “send a message against judicial arrogance.”

The ad script is after the jump, along with news on the Judge Bus and the “Homegrown Justice” events, which called on Iowans to retain all the judges on the ballot.

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Three reasons the anti-retention "Judge Bus" will backfire

On Monday, Family Research Council Action and the National Organization for Marriage will launch a “Judge Bus Tour” to campaign against retaining Iowa Supreme Court justices Marsha Ternus, Michael Streit and David Baker. Organizers will take their bus through 45 Iowa counties, stopping at 20 planned rallies. Featured speakers at the rallies will include nationally-known heroes on the religious right: Family Research Council Action President Tony Perkins, National Organization for Marriage President Brian Brown, Representative Steve King of Iowa’s fifth Congressional district, and former Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania.

My hunch is the big purple judge-hating bus will drive more votes toward retaining than ousting the Supreme Court justices.

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Coalition against Iowa Supreme Court justices launches second tv ad

The Iowa for Freedom coalition launched another statewide television commercial today urging Iowans to vote against retaining Supreme Court justices Marsha Ternus, Michael Streit and David Baker. The concept and images strongly resemble the coalition’s first tv ad on the subject, which started running in mid-September.

Video, transcript and comments are after the jump.

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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.  

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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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Iowa Supreme Court justices won't campaign for themselves

Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Marsha Ternus confirmed on September 30 that she and her colleagues will not wage a campaign urging Iowans to retain them in office.

Ternus said she and justices David Baker and Michael Streit don’t want to set an example for judges by campaigning and raising money.

“How would you feel, as a litigant, to appear in court and know that the opposing party’s attorney gave money to the judge’s re-election campaign and your attorney didn’t? Is that the kind of system Iowans want? I just hope they think about it. This is way more important than whether any one judge is retained or not,” she said.

I’ve talked to some people who are frustrated the Supreme Court justices aren’t more actively defending themselves and their records. I admire them for honoring the principle that judges should not engage in election-style campaigns, even when their own jobs are on the line.

Former Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Vander Plaats is heading a campaign to oust the judges. His Iowa for Freedom organization has massive financial backing from the American Family Association and the National Organization for Marriage. Hundreds of thousands of dollars have already been spent on a statewide television commercial and radio advertising urging Iowans to vote no on retaining Ternus, Streit and Baker.

The Justice, Not Politics coalition formed recently to defend the judges and our current judicial system, but they won’t be able to match the conservative groups’ spending against the judges. The Iowa State Bar Association has created Iowans for Fair and Impartial Courts, but as a pending 501(c) organization, that group cannot explicitly urge Iowans to vote yes on retaining the Supreme Court justices.

Please remind your friends and relatives to turn the ballot over and vote yes on retaining the judges listed. All of them “are well qualified to remain as judges” according to the Iowa State Bar Association’s survey of Iowa attorneys. Survey results were released on October 1. All 74 judges up for retention this year received “high marks” for “professionalism and demeanor” on the bench. The Des Moines Register listed the bar association’s survey results for the three Supreme Court justices and all Polk County judges on the ballot.

All judges had more than 70 percent support from the attorneys, but Ternus’ retention rating (72 percent) was lower than the ratings for Streit and Baker. In general, women judges receive lower retention ratings from the legal community than men on the bench. Ternus also made the news in the summer of 2009 when seven 19-year-olds, including her son, were arrested for drinking at a party outside her home. Her husband was charged with interference with official acts as Polk County sheriff’s deputies broke up that party, but the charge was later amended to harassment of a public official.

UPDATE: Saturday’s Des Moines Register offered another possible explanation for Ternus’ slightly lower rating:

But the vote also follows a tight budget year for the courts. Ternus, who issues administrative orders as part of her duties, required clerk-of-court offices to reduce their public hours, and imposed courthouse closure days as a cost-cutting measure. Some court reporters were laid off.

“The chief justice is the person who addresses issues such as dealing with court’s budget, or administrative issues in the court,” Knutson said. “Certainly, she had to be the public face on some of those hard decisions.”

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Case against Iowa Supreme Court justices hits tv screens

Iowa for Freedom, the group seeking to oust three Iowa Supreme Court justices this November, began running a statewide television commercial on Monday.

The ad echoes language Iowa for Freedom chair Bob Vander Plaats used during his gubernatorial campaign, and it reflects the same failure to understand the judicial review process.

The video and transcript are after the jump, along with an update on the counter-effort to protect judicial independence in Iowa.

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Republicans waging war against judicial independence in Iowa

Bob Vander Plaats announced at a press conference today that he will not run for governor as an independent but will lead a public campaign against retaining the three Iowa Supreme Court justices whose names are on the ballot this November. Vander Plaats didn’t say who will fund the campaign, but promised more details on his “grassroots” effort next week. James Lynch reported yesterday that the Republican Governors Association will fund Vander Plaats’ crusade, which RGA officials consider “a model to be duplicated in other states.”

It’s been obvious for weeks that Vander Plaats wasn’t planning an independent bid for governor. The only question was what kind of face-saving deal would be struck between the bitter Republican primary rivals. The rumor mill suggested Vander Plaats might endorse Branstad in exchange for a promised future job. Instead, we have a different truce: Vander Plaats formally stands true to his principles by not endorsing Branstad. In return, the RGA (Branstad’s largest campaign donor by far) will pay for Vander Plaats’ revenge mission against Iowa judges.

Branstad has avoided publicly urging Iowans to vote against retaining the Supreme Court justices, and he didn’t have the guts today to take a stand for or against unseating them over a political dispute. In a written statement, Branstad said, “This is an issue on which Bob has often spoke with great passion and I understand his desire to pursue this path.”

How different from the Branstad of May 2009, who said “I do respect the existence of the separation of powers” when asked whether he regretted appointing two of the current justices, including Mark Cady, author of the Varnum v Brien decision.

The old Branstad wasn’t planning to run for governor again. The new Branstad doesn’t mind exploiting resentment over same-sex marriage for his own political gain. If that ends the careers of three good judges while elevating demagogues who don’t understand judicial review, so be it. Branstad appointee and Chief Justice Marsha Ternus has said this year’s retention elections will test Iowans’ commitment to an impartial judiciary. Branstad won’t join the right side in this fight.

On the contrary, Branstad has endorsed changing Iowa’s highly-regarded merit-based system for selecting judges. He has an interest in creating vacancies he could fill if elected governor, and he would rather pander to the religious right than allow judicial selection commissions to keep doing the job they’ve been doing for almost four decades. Some Iowa Republicans have advocated bringing back judicial elections or extremely stupid new restrictions on judicial deliberations. Branstad should know better than to play with fire on this issue.

Iowa House and Senate Republicans are probably overjoyed by today’s news. Vander Plaats will be working to turn out social conservatives who might not be thrilled with the party’s nominee for governor. That has to help GOP candidates in some of the battleground legislative districts. On the other hand, moderates may be turned off by the campaign against the judges. A Des Moines Register poll of likely Iowa Republican primary voters taken in June by Selzer and Associates found that 35 percent of respondents said some Iowans had “overreacted” to the gay marriage issue. The same survey found that 45 percent of likely Republican primary voters were against voting to remove Supreme Court judges because of their decision on marriage.

I’m concerned about the retention elections, because the judges are unable to campaign on their own behalf. Those who support judicial independence, such as the State Bar Association, are unlikely to match spending against the judges by conservative groups and the Republican Governors Association. Fortunately, Governor Chet Culver made his position loud and clear today:

“I support Iowa’s Supreme Court justices and more importantly, I support our judicial nomination and appointment process as it stands today.

“Iowa is known for having the fairest judge selection system in the country. We oppose efforts to make choosing our judges more political, more ideological.

“Terry Branstad and his running mate Kim Reynolds have made it clear that they want to change our system. Branstad has gone so far as to highlight Reynolds’s support for changing the state’s constitution, allowing the governor to reject all nominees sent by the judicial nominating committee, requiring the committee to send names again and again until the governor finds an appointee that supports a certain political agenda.

“This campaign is about the future of our state and about choosing to move forward, instead of backwards. The best way to do that is not to focus on ideological battles but to bring Iowans together by investing in our future to create jobs, continue our national leadership in renewable energy and build 21st Century schools.”

John Deeth seems optimistic that the Vander Plaats crusade will fail. He makes a good point today:

Just for the record, here’s how the math usually works out on these things: the judges almost always win [retention] by an 80%-20% margin, with 40% or so of voters just skipping the contests entirely. I don’t see BVP swaying a typical independent voter. If he has any impact it’s on the margins, lowering that undervote percentage.

In [the] 1992 ERA vote, I learned a tough but basic lesson: Loudly reminding your people to vote Yes in an otherwise low-profile race simultaneously reminds the other side to vote No. The polarity is reversed here but BVP faces the same dilemma.

In 2004, activists on the religious right “mounted an unsuccessful campaign to oust Woodbury County District Court Judge Jeffrey Neary in 2004 based on Neary’s decision to grant a divorce to two lesbians who had entered into a civil union in Vermont.” Here’s hoping Vander Plaats fails too.

Share any relevant thoughts in this thread. Do you think Branstad can get by with weasel wording on the retention vote for the rest of the campaign? Or will he be forced later to come out explicitly for or against keeping Justices Ternus, Michael Streit and David Baker on the high court?

UPDATE: A statement from the American Judicature Society is after the jump. Iowa’s judiciary has been recognized as among the best in the country.

AUGUST 11 UPDATE: How cowardly is Terry Branstad?

“This is a ballot issue, and Gov. Branstad believes this is an issue on which people need to decide for themselves,” spokesman Tim Albrecht said today. “He respects the secret ballot and believes people should vote their conscience.”

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Iowa Chief Justice: retention elections will test commitment to impartial judiciary

Shortly after the Iowa Supreme Court unanimously cleared the way for same-sex marriage rights in April 2009, prominent social conservatives in Iowa vowed to vote out three Supreme Court justices who face retention elections in November 2010. Those are Chief Justice Marsha Ternus and Justices Michael Streit and David Baker.

Judges do not campaign actively for retention, but today Ternus commented on the upcoming elections during an Iowa Public Radio appearance. (continues after the jump)

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Let Iowa courts consolidate

Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Marsha Ternus had bad news about the condition of the judiciary when she addressed the Iowa legislature yesterday.

Since the 2002 fiscal year, she noted, staffing levels have been reduce[d] by 17 percent. In just the last year, staff was cut by 11 percent. In fact, the state’s courts now operate with a smaller workforce than it had in 1987, the year the state assumed full funding for the court system. The number of serious and time-consuming cases before the court, however, have increased by 66 percent.

Ternus also argued that budget shortfalls have adversely impacted the Judicial Branch more than any other aspect or agency in government.

“Unlike many state agencies and the regents, the judicial branch has no pass-through funds, no programs to cut and no reserves to tap. Nearly all our operating costs are for people – employees and judges who are the life blood of the court system – so when we cut our budget, we must cut our workforce.”

Ternus warned of “assembly line justice” and “de facto consolidation” of courts if state legislators do not at least maintain current levels of funding. (Click here for a pdf file containing the full text of Ternus’ speech.)

While the judiciary has faced several rounds of budget cuts, demand for court services has increased because of the recession. For example, during the past two years mortgage foreclosures have increased by 34 percent in Iowa, cases relating to domestic violence protection have increased 15 percent, and “juvenile commitments for drug or mental-health issues” have risen by 76 percent.

Current state law requires courts to operate in all of Iowa’s 99 counties. That made sense when it could take the better part of a day for people to travel to their county courthouse, but it’s not an efficient use of resources now. I am with the Des Moines Register’s editorial board: state legislators need to either allocate enough funding for the judicial system we have, or amend the law to allow some consolidation of courthouses. The latter would run up against stiff resistance in the Iowa House and Senate because of the likely impact on some small county-seat towns. But it’s wrong to let civil and criminal court services degrade across the state. If budget constraints demand efficiency measures in other branches of government, let the judiciary make the best use of available funds by consolidating where necessary.

UPDATE: Governor Chet Culver told the Iowa Independent that he shares the concerns Ternus raised and does not support any further funding cuts for the judiciary.

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This is no time to debate the drinking age

A bunch of 19-year-olds drinking beer at a party wouldn’t normally be newsworthy, but that changes when the police get involved and the party happened at a public figure’s house:

The general counsel for Iowa’s largest hospital system was charged with interference with official acts after Polk County sheriff’s deputies broke up an alcohol party involving seven 19-year-olds at the executive’s Grimes home early Sunday.

Dennis Drake, 57, is the husband of Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Marsha Ternus. […]

The misdemeanor charge accuses him of failing to obey a deputy’s commands.

It’s not clear who purchased the beer for the 19-year-olds or whether Ternus was home during the party.

John Deeth thinks the drinking age should be 18 and Drake is getting a bum rap:

[Drake] was positioned near the driveway at 1:30 AM to make sure no one drove home. Assuming that Her Honor was also in the parental loop (police reports don’t indicate if she was home or not), that means two high-end lawyers looked at the situation and felt that the best thing to do was to let these young ADULTS have a drink or six at home and make sure they didn’t drive.

Looks like the only thing anyone did that was WRONG was to be loud and obnoxious and annoy the neighbors–a temporary injury of lost sleep that’s far less than would could have happened if Ternus and Drake had been less responsible.

This event is an opportunity Ternus should take to offer her opinion on the law. Not on the constitutionality of the law, but on the efficacy, the justice, the effectiveness of the law. Now, I’m just a dumb blogger, not a smart lawyer or nuthin’, so I don’t know what the guidelines are. But from my perspective I’d love to hear Ternus say, “My son and husband broke the law, but it’s a really bad law.”

It’s good that Drake was preventing intoxicated 19-year-olds from driving, but I couldn’t disagree more with Deeth’s advice for Ternus.

My inner wonk would love to hear a policy debate between public-health experts, who might cite benefits of keeping the drinking age where it is, and people like Deeth who figure, kids can vote, get married and go off to fight in a war at 18–why not let them have a beer?

But the last thing we need is for the Chief Justice to start questioning the drinking age because her husband and son got in trouble. Ever since the Iowa Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, social conservatives have been plotting their campaign against Ternus and her two colleagues up for retention in November 2010. They will be looking for any excuse to claim Ternus disrespects Iowa laws. Drake should get this matter behind the family and not let it happen again.

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Religious right will target three Iowa Supreme Court justices in 2010

Social conservatives made clear at yesterday’s rally against gay marriage that they will try to remove Iowa Supreme Court justices next year:

“This is only the beginning,” said Danny Carroll, a former legislator and now chairman of the conservative Iowa Family Policy Center. “We will remember and we will remember in November.”

Chuck Hurley, also a former legislator and president of the policy center, noted that in addition to legislators and Gov. Chet Culver, three Iowa Supreme Court justices would face retention elections next year.

That includes Chief Justice Marsha Ternus.

“Maybe she will know how it feels after November of 2010,” said Hurley.

Justices Michael Streit and David Baker also will be up for retention elections next year. The Supreme Court struck down the state’s gay marriage ban on a 7-0 decision.

“Three judges on the ballot. We will remember next November,” Hurley said. “You are not fooling anyone.”

In Iowa, judges are appointed through a merit-selection process that was approved by voters in the 1960s. Voters decide whether to keep a judge in office. Supreme court judges are up for retention every eight years, while court of appeals and district court judges are up every six years.

I automatically vote to retain every judge, whether conservative, moderate or liberal, unless I have heard from trusted attorneys that the judge is incompetent or corrupt. In more than two decades of voting I’ve only voted against retention once or twice. I’ve disagreed with some court rulings, just like Hurley and Carroll disagree with the Varnum v Brien decision. But our justice system depends on judges being able to interpret the law without fear of reprisal.

The threats from Carroll and Hurley underscore how extremism has become mainstream for Iowa Republicans. These are not fringe wackos; Carroll and Hurley are both former state legislators.

Marsha Ternus has 16 years of experience on Iowa’s high court. She was appointed by Republican Governor Terry Branstad (as was Mark Cady, the author of the Varnum v Brien decision). Streit and Baker also have lengthy and distinguished legal careers. Yet that means nothing, because social conservatives want to impose their religious beliefs on everyone.

We’ll need to remember to tell our friends to vote yes on retaining all judges in November 2010. Many people never bother to fill out the back side of the ballot.

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