(This is the second in a series of stories on the new Chief Justice of the Iowa Supreme Court.)
Marsha Ternus says she’ll face many of the same problems as her predecessor when she takes over as the new Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice on September 29th. Ternus says the biggest of those issues is outside “attacks” on the court system. She says attacks from “politicians and some special interest groups that challenge the ability of the courts to protect citizens’ constitutional rights,and to remain fair and impartial rule on cases according to the law and the Constitution and not based on personal views or the pressure from special interest groups.”
Ternus’ comments on the issue of surveying judges mirror those of retiring Chief Justice Louis Lavorato, who she’ll replace. Ternus says a questionnaire sent out to judges up for re-election by a conservative group is a concern. She says, “Under our ethics that govern judges, if a judges impartiality can reasonably be questioned, then that judge is required to recuse him or herself from hearing the case. So, when judges announce positions on particular issues, it jeopardizes their ability to fully do their job.”
Ternus says she’s not disputing that judges have a right to answer such questions — Ternus says judges just need to consider the consequences of their actions. “While the judge can certainly answer those types of questions,” Ternus says, “the judge may choose not to do so because of the opportunity to question that judges impartiality later.”
Ternus say under Iowa’s system, judges are given their jobs based on their professional legal qualifications, and not their partisan political views. Ternus says she hopes that when a judge is up for retention, the dialogue is about the judges professional qualifications and not the way the judge may’ve ruled on a particular case. Ternus says, “That ruling may or may not reflect the judge’s personal views which are totally irrelevant to the judge’s decision making role to begin with.”
Ternus says improving access to the courts, improving security in county courtrooms, and budget problems are all ongoing issues she’ll face as chief justice.