The Iowa Supreme Court’s ruling in the gay marriage case could be history-making once the issue is decided — but there’s already been some new ground broken in the way the case was handled. The oral arguments in the case Tuesday were broadcast live on TV and via the internet. Chief Justice Marsha Ternus also took the unprecedented step of explaining the process from the bench before the arguments began.
"Because this argument will be watched by many persons unfamiliar with the appellant process, I am going to take the unusual step of summarizing the case and describing how this court processes appeals," Ternus said. Ternus says the case involves the question of the validity of an Iowa law that describes marriage between a man and a woman. Ternus went on to explain what would take place during the oral arguments, and then said afterward the justices would begin discussing the issue among themselves.
Ternus says one judge will later begin working on the task of writing the collective decision of the court which they call an opinion. She says other justices are writing opinions on other cases and the drafts of those opinions are circulated among all the justices. Ternus says the circulation of the draft opinions is where the final decision comes about.
Ternus explained: "During this time the justices make comments on each opinion draft, debate legal points with each other, and may even write and circulate his or her own opinion draft. This process continues until a majority of justices agree on the final version of an opinion."
The final opinion could take several months or weeks to be developed under the process that Ternus described. While the court did allow expanded media access to the proceedings, it did not suspend all rules. Several state patrol cars were lined up at the entrance to the Supreme Court building, and those attending the proceedings were told by state troopers they could not take cellphones or electronic devices inside.
While pool coverage of the arguments were allowed, reporters covering the proceeding were not allowed to conduct any interviews inside the court building and had to do so in the cold outside the building.