Grassley: Retention process works

Senator mum on how he'll vote

CEDAR RAPIDS — Sen. Chuck Grassley doesn’t plan to weigh in on whether an Iowa Supreme Court justice should be dismissed from the bench, but he doesn’t have a problem with Iowa voters making that decision.

“I’m a guy who voted in 1959 and 1961 for the present way of selecting judges,” Grassley told The Gazette Editorial Board on Thursday. The longtime Republican lawmaker was a member of the Iowa House when the Legislature voted to put a constitutional amendment establishing the current judicial retention practice on the ballot.

“So if I voted for it and people have a choice on whether someone should be retained, how can I complain when I voted for it?” he said.

The Legislature and voters changed the Constitution so that Iowans periodically vote on whether judges — who have been nominated by a state commission and appointed by the governor — should keep their jobs.

“At the time we did it, it was considered to be very progressive,” Grassley said. It replaced a system in which judicial candidates were nominated by the political parties and “ran just like I do for the Congress. It was a political campaign.”

The senator’s not taking a public position on Republican Party of Iowa Chairman A.J. Spiker’s call to remove Justice David Wiggins, who was part of the court’s unanimous 2009 decision striking down a ban on same-sex marriage. Grassley said that’s because he doesn’t want to start weighing in on every state issue.

“If you start getting involved in state issues, (when) does it stop that you’re asked about this or that that you don’t know a lot about?” he said.

One thing Grassley knows is he doesn’t want to implement the state’s retention election process at the federal level. The federal judiciary, Grassley said, has a 225-year history of independence.

“We’ve had pretty good checks and balances within our system of government and I don’t think we need more,” he said.

Likewise, he’s not sure the state would be better off adopting the federal process of justices being nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate.

“I just know it was a very forward-looking thing to do what we did 50 years ago,” Grassley said.Grassley, who is conducting more than 20 town hall meetings around the state during the August congressional recess, also spoke to employees at Crystal Group in Hiawatha and the Central States Shrine Association Legions of Honor Banquet in Cedar Rapids on Thursday.