Same-Sex Marriage Opponents Launch Campaign to Oust Iowa Judges

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Opponents of same-sex marriage have launched a campaign to unseat the three Iowa Supreme Court justices whose votes helped legalize it who are up for retention in the Nov. 7 election.

The campaign is spearheaded by Bob Vander Plaats, a conservative activist who lost the Republican nomination for governor in the June primary election, according to a report in Friday’s Washington Post.

“We need to vote them off the bench to send a message across Iowa that we, the people, still have the power,” Vander Platts told the newspaper. “Not only will it send a message here in Iowa, but it will send a message in California, in Arizona and across the country that the courts have really taken on too much power.”

He and other conservative activists are still smarting from the Iowa Supreme Court’s unanimous decision last year legalizing same-sex marriage, which was widely regarded as a major victory for the gay rights movement in part because Iowa is the only Midwestern state to allow it.

Iowa judges are initially appointed through a merit-based system but are subject to periodic retention elections. Only three of the state’s seven Supreme Court judges—Chief Justice Marsha Ternus and Justices Michael Streit and David Baker—are on the ballot this year.

Vander Plaats, who announced the creation of an organization called Iowa for Freedom earlier this month, says he plans to run a traditional political campaign to oust the judges, complete with mailers, phone calls and door-knocking.

That’s what worries some lawyers who say it is wrong to punish judges for unpopular decisions. Former Iowa Supreme Court Justice Mark McCormick, who is now in private practice in Des Moines, told the Post the campaign is about vengeance. “I think it is a challenge to judicial independence. There’s an effort being made to succeed in turning out of office these three good judges for an inappropriate reason.”

None of the judges has done any campaigning on their own behalf, the Post says. But the coming political battle places them in a tricky situation. Judges are allowed to campaign for retention but are extremely restricted in what they can say under the state’s judicial code of conduct.

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