Conservatives send a warning shot in ousting Iowa judges

November 4, 2010

(RNS) Three of the seven justices on the Iowa Supreme Court who voted to
legalize same-sex marriage last year lost their jobs on Tuesday (Nov.
2), but conservative activists are warning they might not be the last.

Under a 1962 state law, judges are appointed but must be retained by
a majority of voters every 10 years. Since the system was implemented in
an attempt to shield judges from politics, no judge has ever been booted
from office.

But conservatives, still seething over the court's decision to allow
same-sex marriage, poured more than $1 million into ousting Chief
Justice Marsha Ternus and Justices David Baker and Michael Streit.

Two lower court judges who had ruled in favor of gay marriage and
who also faced voters on Tuesday won enough votes to keep their jobs.

"The message is we're mad as hell, and we're not going to take it
anymore," said David Lane, executive director of the legislative action
arm of Mississippi-based American Family Association.

Firing the Iowa judges was a top priority for the Washington-based
National Organization for Marriage, which spent at least $600,000 on the
campaign and sent a "Judge Bus" crisscrossing through almost half of
Iowa's 99 counties.

"Judges in Iowa began this fight by refusing to follow the
constitution, ... refusing to listen to the people and putting their own
view of marriage on the citizens of Iowa," said Brian Brown, NOM's

Brown said the ousting of the three justices "was a massive victory
for judicial accountability" and called it "historic."

Connie Mackey, president of the political arm of the Family Research
Council, said the "Judge Bus" tour was intended to get voters to "think
carefully about whether or not the judges crossed the line into

On the tour's last stop in front of the Iowa Supreme Court building
five days before the election, Tamara Scott, director of the Iowa
chapter of Concerned Women for America, told voters to keep their
appointed judges accountable.

"If a child is misbehaving and they get by with it, do they usually
stop on their own or do they get a bit more brazen?" she said. "Well, we
found that just like children, the legislature, and I'm guessing the
judges too, behave better when they know adults are watching."

Mackey said the tour was focused on Iowa, but carried "a national
message to justices that they should guard very carefully the separation
of powers."

The move clearly puts gay marriage supporters on the defensive in
the five states and the District of Columbia where same-sex marriage is

Justin Uebelhor, spokesman for One Iowa, the state's largest gay
rights advocacy organization, called the message from conservative
activists "destructive."

"It does send a message to judges that out-of-state special interest
groups can fund campaigning to politicize the judicial system," he said.

The Rev. Darlene Nipper, deputy executive director for the National
Gay and Lesbian Task Force, criticized special interest groups for
pouring money into Iowa.

"Our hope is judges will do what they are in their role to do, which
is not to make their judgments based on politics but rather on the law
and Constitution without regard to public opinion," she said.