Supreme Court justice may face re-election challenge, Branstad says

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Gov. Terry Branstad said Friday that he expects Iowa Supreme Court Justice David Wiggins will face opposition when he comes before voters for retention on the 2012 general election ballot.

Branstad said he has heard from Iowans who were upset with the way Wiggins conducted himself as the leader of the State Judicial Nominating Commission during the televised interviews last January of 60 candidates seeking three vacant positions on the Iowa Supreme Court. Those vacancies were the result of an historic 2010 retention vote when a majority of Iowans rejected then Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Marsha Ternus and Associate Justices David Baker and Michael Streit – whose terms ended last Dec. 31.

The commission recommended nine candidates from which Branstad selected Edward Mansfield, 53, of Des Moines, Thomas Waterman, 51, of Pleasant Valley, and Bruce Zager, 58, of Waterloo, to replace the three ousted justices on the state’s top court.

Like Ternus, Streit and Baker, Wiggins was a member of the 7-0 majority that issued a controversial April 2009 decision to strike down as unconstitutional a 1998 state law that defined marriage as only between one man and one woman. That ruling paved the way for couples of the same gender to legally enter into civil marriages later that month and touched off a political firestorm among social and religious conservatives who actively worked to remove the three justices up for retention.

Speaking on Iowa Public Television’s “Iowa Press” show Friday, Branstad said he believed Wiggins would face organized opposition when he comes up for retention in 2012 as well.

“I suspect there will be a lot of people — especially in light of the fact that he chaired the Judicial Nominating Commission and the way that he treated some of the applicants to that, and that was all on videotape — I suspect that there are going to be some people that are going to have grave concerns about the way that he has operated,” Branstad said.

“I do expect that Wiggins will face some challenge in that. I think a lot of people were concerned, I’ve even heard this about some of the judges who were up before him about the lack of temperament in the way he interviewed the candidates and in the way that they were treated and whether they were all treated in the same even handed and equitable way. But that’s an issue I guess that will come up when that comes up,” the governor added.

Requests for a response from Judicial Branch officials went unanswered Friday.

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