The Iowa Bar Association and three other groups hosted an hour-long discussion this afternoon about the upcoming judicial retention elections in Iowa.
A group called Iowa for Freedom is running ads statewide, urging Iowans to vote “no” on three Iowa Supreme Court justices who are on this fall’s ballot in the retention election because of the court’s gay marriage ruling. Rachel Paine Caufield teaches a class on judicial politics at Drake University and she says that group’s emergence is part of a trend, as a handful of organizations try to alter the make-up of courts.
“This year is different, not just in Iowa but across the country,” Caufield says. “Coordinated and well-funded anti-retention campaigns are being run in Illinois, Kansas, Florida and Colorado.”
Caufield says political pressure over a single ruling or key issue — like gay marriage — puts judges in a difficult position. She cites research which shows judges in other states who are elected are more likely to impose the death penalty the closer they get to an election.
“The voters of Iowa probably would like to avoid that scenario where judges are constantly trying to evaluate whether or not the decision that they’re about to make will have a significant impact on retention and, instead, would like to know that their judges are following the law to the best of their ability,” she says.
William Buss has been a professor in the College of Law at the University of Iowa since 1967. Buss says having a judge “look over his shoulder” to determine how the public may react to a decision puts “bad pressure” on the judge.
“Obviously the concern is that if judges think they do a good job, but in a particular situation they’re afraid that a particular decision is going to cause people to vote ‘no’ on retention, they are going to be at least tempted,” Buss says. “…It’s going to pass through their mind: ‘How important is this decision?'”
Today’s hour-long event was hosted by the Iowa Freedom of Information Council, the Iowa Newspaper Foundation, the American Judicature Society and the Iowa Association for Justice as well as the Iowa State Bar Association.
Listen to the event: CourtWebinar
A separate discussion on this topic is scheduled for late this afternoon in Des Moines. That event is hosted by the Federalist Society.
A spokesman for the group pushing to oust the three justices on the Iowa Supreme Court says those justices have “taken the court to historic lows” and Iowans “deserve” three new justices.