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DES MOINES – After seeing three Iowa Supreme Court justices voted off the bench in November, Justice Not Politics is not waiting for legislators to begin impeachment proceedings against the four remaining members of the court.
“We can't just sit back on our hands and assume that wisdom will prevail,” former Democratic Lt. Gov. Sally Pederson said at a Statehouse news conference Feb. 10.
Pederson, a co-chairwoman of Justice Not Politics, delivered a petition with 3,248 signatures to House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal and Minority Leader Paul McKinley.
The petition urges lawmakers “to end any conversation about impeaching Supreme Court justices,” she said. The signers of the online petition “believe it's a waste of time to be talking about impeachment. It's not an appropriate action to be considering.”
Ever since voters ousted Chief Justice Marsha Ternus and two other justices in November, social conservatives have been talking of impeaching the four remaining members who concurred in the unanimous 2009 Varnum v. Brien decision that struck down the state's ban on same-sex marriage.
One of them, Rep. Glen Massie, R-Des Moines, said the petition won't change his plans to begin impeachment proceedings.
He will go forward with impeachment “at the appropriate time,” Massie said Feb. 10, adding, “if we can move it.”
Another player in the effort to oust the three justices last fall, Sen. Kent Sorenson, R-Indianola, was not impressed with Justice Not Politics' 3,248 signatures.
“Look at the retention vote – 3,300 is a minute number,” Sorenson said. Approximately 55 percent of Iowa voters voted against retaining the justices.
Pederson defended the month-long effort, saying the petition reflects 100 signers a day.
“There weren't polling places. There was not a million campaign to urge people to vote a certain way,” she said. “This is a significant number.”
Sorenson, however, called impeachment a distraction.
“I would vote for impeachment if I was in the House, but I probably wouldn't be moving it,” Sorenson said. “There's a difference.”
He wants to change the appointment process. Sorenson's preference would be direct election of justices, “but I don't believe Iowa is ready for that.”
He would be satisfied by giving the governor authority to appoint justices who would be confirmed by the Senate and then stand for retention.
Now, a nominating commission gives the governor three names from which to appoint a justice. Gov. Terry Branstad is interviewing nine nominees for the three vacancies on the bench.
Justice Not Politics will continue to gather signatures, Pederson said.
“I believe the majority of the people of Iowa are fair-minded, they appreciate the court system we have, that they want to keep politics out of the system and they are now speaking up,” she said.