Iowa gay marriage foes emboldened by judges' removal

Michael Streit, David Baker, Marsha Ternus, Iowa Surpreme Court chief justices
Michael Streit, David Baker, Marsha Ternus, Iowa Surpreme Court chief justices

Emboldened by the removal of three Iowa Supreme Court justices, gay marriage foes said they plan to press Republicans who took over the governor's office and the state House to work toward a gay marriage ban.

"We held a court in check, but now we want action from the governor's office and action from the Legislature," said Bob Vander Plaats, a Sioux City businessman and former Republican candidate for governor who led the effort to remove the justices.

Chief Justice Marsha Ternus, David Baker and Michael Streit will be removed after about 54 percent of voters backed their ouster Tuesday. They were among the seven on the court of seven justices who unanimously decided last year that an Iowa law restricting marriage to one man and one woman violated the state's constitution.

Despite Tuesday's vote, the court's ruling stands.

However, Vander Plaats is determined to make gay marriage an issue now that Republican Terry Branstad has defeated one-term Democrat Chet Culver for the governor's office. Republicans also took at least 56 seats in the 100-member state House.

Vander Plaats and other gay marriage opponents have sought a constitutional amendment requiring that marriage may only exist between a man and a woman. Democrats in control haven't considered it.

The justices were the only ones on the high court up for retention votes. In Iowa, judges are appointed, then voters have the option of retaining them when their terms are up.

It was the first time Iowa voters have removed a Supreme Court justice since the current system began in 1962.

Gay marriage foes around the country spent an estimated $1 million on the campaign.

The judges chose not to raise money and campaign. But a group of former governors, lawyers and judges formed as Fair Courts For Us to support them, saying Iowa's independent judiciary was at risk if a one-issue campaign succeeded in removing the justices.

Dan Moore, the group's co-chairman, said advocates need to educate Iowans about the court system and the importance of keeping money and politics out of it.

"What I want Iowans to know is that our courtrooms need to be the safest place for parties to go to work out their differences and disputes," Moore said. "They need to know courts will be fair and impartial and decisions won't be based on fear and popularity."

The three justices will leave at the end of the year.

Once the secretary of state certifies election results, which must be done by Nov. 29, the state's 15-member judicial nominating commission will have 60 days to give the names of three nominees to the governor for each vacancy. The governor will then have 30 days to make appointments.

The court will continue to function with the four remaining members until appointees are named.

Ternus, Baker and Streit issued a statement saying they hope Iowans keep the current system of appointing judges. Vander Plaats and others have proposed changing the process to require lawmakers to approve appointments.

"This system helps ensure that judges base their decisions on the law and the constitution and nothing else," they wrote. "Ultimately, however, the preservation of our state's fair and impartial courts will require more than the integrity and fortitude of individual judges, it will require the steadfast support of the people."

Streit was appointed to the Supreme Court in 2001 and Baker in 2008, filling out another justice's term.

Ternus was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1993 and was chosen chief justice in 2006, the first woman in Iowa to serve in that post.

It is rare for judges in Iowa to fail to get enough votes to remain on the bench. In the 1970s, three district court judges lost retention votes. In 1994, a judge from Des Moines failed to get enough votes to keep the job.


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