Retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor today praised Iowa’s system of selecting judges and she warned that injecting politics into the judicial system threatens the “safe place” that courtrooms are supposed to be.
O’Connor spoke this morning to over 500 people at an event in Des Moines, but she would not allow her remarks to be recorded. A group called “Iowa for Freedom” was formed this summer to campaign against the three Iowa Supreme Court justices who are on November’s ballot in a retention election as a response to the court’s ruling which paved the way for gay marriage in Iowa.
Barry Griswell, who recently retired from his job leading the Principal Financial Group, says the court system would “deteriorate” in Iowa if judges are ousted on the basis of a single opinion.
“I just think it’s going to be the beginning of a horribly ugly mess if that were to succeed,” Griswell says. “It might be…the first step toward…elected judges and I think that all of that would be terribly wrong…It’s not about protecting or caring about a particular ruling. It’s about the system we have and maintaining that system.”
Griswell hosted a panel of speakers that included O’Connor, then Griswell joined all the panels except O’Connor at a news conference. According to Griswell, executives consider the stability of a state’s court system when making business decisions.
“I can remember both in my prior company and with Principal the state of Alabama, which has elected judges, was a real problem. Not only did we disagree with some of their punitive damages awards, but more importantly they were not predictable,” Griswell said. “You really didn’t know what you might end up getting at the end of the day and even when you went to the (Alabama) Supreme Court, you find that the decisions were politicized.”
Frank Carroll, the current president of the Iowa State Bar Association, told reporters O’Connor’s visit was “extremely valuable” in the group’s efforts to try to convince Iowans the state’s current court system should be kept intact.
“The merit selection process in Iowa has developed one of the best fair and impartial judicial systems in the United States and having her come in and help us develop the message that we want to convey to the citizens of Iowa about the importance of the merit selection system I think was just very — very, very helpful,” Carroll said.
O’Connor was the first woman appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court. She retired from the court in 2006. In her remarks this morning in Des Moines, O’Connor said court systems are “under stress” because politics is being injected into the selection and retention of judges.
“Iowa For Freedom” state chairman Bob Vander Plaats issued a written statement, saying the Iowa court system “has been politicized” by the gay marriage ruling and the retention vote is an “accountability mechanism” to “reign in” the state’s highest court.
Listen to this morning’s news conference with all the panelists who shared the stage with O’Connor: AllButOConnor