Three Iowa Supreme Court justices will be leaving the court at year’s end. The names of the chief justice and two other justices were on yesterday’s ballot in a retention election, and while returns were not complete early this morning, the justices issued a written statement at 12:30 a.m., acknowledging their losses and the end of their service on the court.
Bob Vander Plaats is a spokesman for the group “Iowa for Freedom” which formed this summer to campaign against the judges because of the court’s ruling on gay marriage.
“We believe history’s being made and all three justices are going to be voted off the bench,” Vander Plaats said shortly before midnight. “Iowans who have a great level of common sense and a measured response, the more they learned about this issue, the more they understood about this issue, the more they were willing to vote no because they saw an activist court that was wanted to make law from the bench and they knew that wasn’t their role. Their voice was never heard on the same-sex marriage issue.”
Dan Moore, a Sioux City attorney who is a past-president of the Iowa State Bar Association, headed up a group that had urged Iowans to retain the justices.
“We’re concerned about the precedent that has been set and what this means for the influence of money and politics in our judicial system,” Moore says. “We obviously weren’t able to get out message out. Part of the difficulty we ran into is we were outspent almost four-to-one, so that was hard to go up against with limited resources. We did the best we could with what we had.” The statement from the justices thanked “all of the Iowans who voted to retain (them) for another term.”
The judges said that support showed “many Iowans value fair and impartial courts.” In April of 2009, the court issued a unanimous ruling on the same-sex marriage case and while three of the co-signers of that opinion have now been voted off the court, the four others will find themselves up in a retention election in the future.
There were a total of 74 judges up for a retention vote in 2010. Two district court judges who have issued ruled in gay marriage cases both won their retention elections.
Jeffrey Neary, a district judge in the Sioux City area, granted a same-sex couple a divorce and this is the second time he’s won a retention vote since handing down that ruling. He won retention 58.5 to 41.5 percent Tuesday according to preliminary vote tallies.
District Court Judge Robert Hanson is the judge in Des Moines who issued the initial ruling in Varnum v. Brien — the same-sex marriage case which the Iowa Supreme Court decided in 2009. Hanson won his retention election by a 66 to 34 percent margin according to preliminary vote tallies.
In other results, voters overwhelmingly rejected the idea of holding a convention to draft new amendments to the state constitution. The proposal failed on a 67 to 33 percent vote.
Voters accepted an amendment to the constitution which would establish a new state fund for land and water conservation projects, if the legislature approves an increase in the state sales tax to finance it. That proposal passed by a 63 to 37 percent margin.
(This story was updated with additional information at 4:05 a.m.)