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Iowa House speaker nixes judicial impeachment proposal

Resolutions to impeach four Iowa Supreme Court justices have been filed by five members of the Iowa House.
Resolutions to impeach four Iowa Supreme Court justices have been filed by five members of the Iowa House.

UPDATED: House Speaker Kraig Paulsen said Friday he would oppose efforts to impeach four sitting Iowa Supreme Court justices and he did not plan to schedule a floor debate this session if impeachment resolutions introduced by five House Republicans advance.

“While I agree with much of the reasoning behind the impeachment resolutions, I disagree with this remedy,” the Hiawatha Republican said in a statement. “I do not expect it to be debated on the floor of the House and, if it is, I will vote no. House Republicans remain focused on reducing government spending and lowering taxes for Iowa families and small businesses.”

Paulsen’s comments were in response to resolutions seeking articles of impeachment filed Thursday by GOP representatives who believe the Iowa Supreme Court overstepped its constitutional authority in April 2009 by unanimously striking down as unconstitutional a 1998 state law that defined marriage as only between one man and one woman.

Opponents contend the ruling – which paved the way for couples of the same gender to enter into civil marriages – represented an activist court legislating from the bench.

A well-organized and well-financed campaign succeeded in defeating three justices – former Chief Justice Marsha Ternus, Michael Streit and David Baker – in last year’s retention votes, and five House members have filed resolutions seeking to impeach current Chief Justice Mark Cady and Associate Justices Brent Appel, Daryl Hecht and David Wiggins. Same-sex marriage opponents have called for the impeachment of the remaining justices if they did not resign.

Paulsen said Friday that the resolutions will not come before the full House this year because the late-arriving impeachment papers must first be considered by the House Judiciary Committee, which is not scheduled to convene again this session. Most standing committee work ended on April 1 when the second self-imposed legislative “funnel” deadline arrived.

“The threat by five legislators to impeach the State Supreme Court Justices is not only a sad attempt to misuse the impeachment process for political gain, but completely out of touch with Iowans,” Justice Not Politics said in a statement. “We are confident legislators and Iowans will reject this ridiculous effort by a small, but loud minority to placate their extreme agenda to inject politics and discrimination into our court system.”

House Democratic Leader Kevin McCarthy, D-Des Moines, had challenged Paulsen and House Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer, R-Garner, to publicly condemn the “outrageous, extremist” impeachment resolutions or to allow a full-blown impeachment proceeding in which he said his 40-member minority would “use every available procedural tool to shut down the Iowa House and defeat this right-wing effort.”

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