IA Chief Justice Warns About Politicizing the Judiciary

Iowa Chief Justice Mark Cady is warning citizens that politicizing of the judiciary threatens the court system.

In the wake of voters ousting three state Supreme Court justices over a controversial gay marriage ruling, one former state justice and some others  speculated that Iowa justices may be forced to hit the campaign trail to hold on to their jobs. They did not do so in the face of an organized ouster campaign last year.

Justice Cady disagrees that hitting the stump is the right choice.

“I think there has to be a campaign not to campaign,” the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier quoted him as saying. “In other words, we can’t have our judges campaigning because that not only takes time away from work they ought to be doing, but it threatens one of our core values, which is independence.”

Regarding a new campaign to educate the public about the workings of their courts, Justice Cady said, “I just think the courts need to be a leader on the discussion to make sure it stays on track and not get sabotaged by people who want to use it for one purpose or another.”

The controversial 2009 ruling was unanimous; it struck down as unconstitutional a state ban on same-sex marriages. The Iowa response, when three justices were up on a retention ballot in November, has captured national attention.

On Thursday, former Republican U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania addressed the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C. and “admonished judges throughout the country for advancing marriage rights for gay couples,” according to a Washington Blade article. He warned:

“The judiciary cannot create life and it did not create marriage, and it has no right to redefine either one of them.”

Meanwhile Bob Vander Plaats, a Republican who served as a leader of the ouster drive in Iowa, criticized the composition of a screening commission that interviews candidates for the state Supreme Court. It has 12 Democrats, only one Republican and one independent, he said.

In addition, if the governor does not want to appoint any of the candidates recommended by the panel, Iowa’s chief justice can make the choice. “That’s a rigged system,” Vander Plaats told the Times-Republican.

Iowa has a merit-based system for selecting judges, and the governor picks from candidates recommended by the  screening panel. The commission recently recommended nine candidates for three vacant seats on the state Supreme Court.

Vander Plaats has attained the stature that a Wall Street Journal article called him  “Iowa’s go-to guy for Republicans eyeing a White House run.” To learn more about the Iowa retention election and related developments, see Gavel Grab.

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