Two of Iowa’s former lieutenant governors — a Republican and a Democrat — are leading a new group called Justice, Not Politics. It’s a campaign to try to get Iowans to vote “yes” on three supreme court justices whose names are on the November ballot in a retention election.

Republican Joy Corning served as Iowa’s lieutenant governor from January of 1991 through January of 1999. “The coalition was recently launched to educate Iowans on this issue and to counter those who are working to tear apart our fair and impartial court system,” Corning says. 

A group called Iowa for Freedom has been campaigning against those supreme court justices because of the court’s gay marriage ruling, running advertisements that urge Iowans to “vote no” on the three judges.  Sally Pederson, a Democrat, served as Iowa’s lieutenant governor from January of 1999 through January of 2007. “Lieutenant Governor Corning and I came together because we both agree there is no place for money and politics in our courts,” Pederson says.

Pederson charges that Iowa for Freedom — the group now headed by former Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Vander Plaats — is trying to “hijack” the courts and using a quarter of a million dollars in out-of-state money to do it. “There is no Iowa for Freedom organization that you can write a check to. It is a project of the American Family Association out of Tupelo, Mississippi, and they don’t have the interests of Iowans at heart. They have their own agenda,” Pederson says. “The American Family Association is really a extremely outrageous, you know, right-wing group.”

The leaders of Iowa For Freedom say they’ll continue to educate Iowans about their right to “hold the court accountable” for the gay marriage ruling and they accuse Pederson and Corning of “scare tactics.”

Corning says judges shouldn’t be subjected to “political retribution” and Corning argues the three justices up for a retention vote this fall have met the right standard by showing an ability to uphold the law “fairly and consistently.”

“There is much work to be done to fight extremists who want to insert their narrow special interests into the one branch of government that should be free from politics,” Corning says.

The League of Women Voters and the Interfaith Alliance are two of the 30 groups that are part of the new “Justice, not Politics” coalition.  Connie Ryan Terrell is executive director of the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa. “This really is an Iowa effort and it really is and will take Iowans talking to one another and educating each other on the merit selection process and why it is so good and why it is something that other states look to as a model,” she says. 

An Iowa for Freedom spokesman says his group isn’t seeking to change the “merit selection” process for judges, but is instead focused on kicking the three justices off the Supreme Court through the already-established retention election.