DES MOINES — Leaders of conservative groups in Iowa again are urging their followers to oust Iowa Supreme Court justices in judicial retention votes, but this year’s opposition to jurists involved in controversial rulings is relatively low key compared with high-profile campaigns of 2010 and 2012.
At the same time, the progressive Justice Not Politics organization issued statewide survey results Friday showing 41 percent of 600 likely Iowa voters support retaining Chief Justice Mark Cady and Justices Brent Appel and Daryl Hecht, while 16 percent opposed them and the rest were undecided or declined to take a position. The poll, conducted Sept. 6-11 by Washington-based Lake Research Partners, had a margin of error of 4.1 percentage points.
Under Iowa’s judicial merit system, every Iowa justice and judge, after serving a year on the bench, must stand for retention at the next general election and then near the end of each regular term of office. To be retained, judges must receive a majority of “yes” votes.
Six years ago, religious, social and constitutional conservatives upset by a unanimous 2009 Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage in Iowa launched a successful campaign to oust three of the seven justices who were up for retention in 2010. But after the defeat of then-Chief Justice Marsha Ternus and Justices David Baker and Michael Streit, Iowans voted in 2012 to retain Justice David Wiggins in a well-funded campaign by opponents.
This year, the final three justices who were part of the 7-0 same-sex marriage decision are up for retention, including Cady, author of that Varnum vs. Brien opinion.
Officials at the Family Leader and Iowa Right to Life State Political Action Committee have posted online messages calling for “no” votes on Cady, Appel and Hecht on the Nov. 8 ballot.
Opposition to keeping them centers on the 2009 decision “to foist same-sex ‘marriage’ on Iowa” and a 2015 ruling to overturn an Iowa Board of Medicine rule that banned telemedicine abortions where a doctor was not physically present, a Family Leader message states.
Likewise, Jenifer Bowen, Iowa Right to Life spokeswoman, issued a news release last week calling for Iowa voters to remove the justices.
“When given the chance to protect women and unborn children in 2015, the Iowa Supreme Court ignored the medical expertise of the Iowa Board of Medicine. Rather, they stood with Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, Iowa’s largest abortion chain,” Bowen wrote.
Andrew Mertens, vice chairman of Justice Not Politics, countered that Cady, Appel and Hecht are highly qualified justices who bring judicial experience to the court, having received ratings of 91, 82 and 88 percent, respectively, in this year’s Iowa State Bar Association survey of lawyers.
Mertens said voter support for the current justices in this poll his group commissioned was higher than a similar survey taken before Wiggins’ 2012 retention, which also was a presidential year. But, he added, advocates are taking nothing for granted.
“This is a strange election year. It’s hard to predict for certain turnout numbers and things like that,” he said. “We can’t sit on our hands.”