The head of a national group warns businesses will steer clear of Iowa if the state’s court system is politicized. A group formed this summer to campaign against three Iowa Supreme Court justices who are on November’s ballot in a retention election because of the court’s gay marriage ruling.
Mike Petro is chief of staff for the Committee for Economic Development which is made up of 200 of the nation’s business leaders and he has concerns about that effort. “The stability of the appointed court system has been good for business and according to a 2008 U.S. Chamber of Commerce survey on state liability rankings, the top five states all had appointed courts and the bottom five all chose justices through competitive elections,” Petro says.
Petro was in Des Moines Wednesday to participate in a panel discussion about Iowa’s court system. According to Drake University Law School Dean Allan Vestal, “politicizing” the retention election for the three Iowa Supreme Court justices is a “sea change” for Iowa.
“Remember that there are far more judges than just members of the supreme court up for retention votes this year,” Vestal said. “The question before the public is whether those judges ought to be retained and I don’t believe that it is appropriate to use specific cases as a means of coming to that decision. We ought to be looking at the judge’s overall performance, not re-litigating individual cases.”
Retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor also spoke on the panel, but reporters were barred from recording her comments. O’Connor supports Iowa’s system of appointing judges and warned about politicizing the courts.
But O’Connor also suggested Iowa might broaden the information presented to voters about judges, such as releasing how many times a judge has had a ruling reversed on appeal or what lawyers and jurors think about the way the judge runs their courtroom.