October 22, 2014

Chief justice “very concerned” about November’s retention election

Chief Justice Mark Cady

Four of the seven justices on the Iowa Supreme Court will be listed on November’s election ballot for a “retention” election and the court’s chief justice says he’s “very concerned.”

In 2010, three Iowa Supreme Court justices, including the former chief justice, were voted off the court after a campaign was launched against them because of the court’s 2009 ruling on same-sex marriage. The three justices appointed to replace them are on this November’s ballot for another retention vote, along with another justice who’s been on the court since 2003.

“I’m very concerned about what might lie ahead only because I realize what happened a year and a half ago,” says Chief Justice Mark Cady.

Cady, who is not up for retention this November, was elected over a year ago by the other justices to be the chief. Since then he has led the court to hold sessions outside the Judicial Building in Des Moines, most recently in Mason City and last week Cady scheduled a hearing on an important case involving Governor Branstad at night, so the public could follow the proceedings live on the Internet.

“I think the best thing that our court can do and every member of our court can do and every member of our judicial branch can do is deliver to Iowans the court system that they have and show Iowans exactly what we do and how we do our work,” Cady says.

According to Cady, it’s important for the justices to “get out” around the state to discuss what the court does.

“We are reacting to the responsibilities as defined by the times in which we live,” Cady says.

Last year a small group of Republican legislators had hoped to impeach Cady and the three other justices on the court who had joined the unanimous ruling on gay married, but that effort failed. Proposals to change the way judges in Iowa are appointed stalled as well. Neither of those ideas were pursued by Republican lawmakers this year, but Cady says it’s “hard for (him) to tell” if the political climate has changed.

“We’re not politicians and we try to go about our work, staying out of that,” Cady says. “But I do know that the public wants to have a court system that works and that’s what I want to focus in on.”

Cady says becoming chief justice has limited the time he can devote to researching and writing opinions because he’s occupied with administrative duties as the head of the judicial branch of state government. The unresolved cases the three ousted justices heard before they were voted off the court had to be re-heard and Cady says the court still hasn’t worked through that backlog.

Cady made his comments today during taping of the “Iowa Press” program which airs tonight at 7:30 on Iowa Public Television.