Voters’ decision could set future tone for judges
Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Marsha Ternus said voters are standing at a crossroads to decide the future of Iowa courts in the Nov. 2 election.
Ternus explained a non-retention vote sends the message to Iowa judges that their decisions, especially on controversial issues such as the recent same-sex marriage ruling, should be influenced by politics instead of fair, impartial reasoning based on the Iowa Constitution and statutes.
Ternus told Fairfield residents attending her presentation “Courts and the Constitution” Monday evening in the Fairfield Arts & Convention Center’s Stephen Sondheim Center for the Performing Arts that Iowa has one of the top-ranked ethical and impartial judicial systems in the country based on a U.S. Chamber of Commerce poll. A contributing factor is that judges are appointed to positions instead of being voted into their jobs — it keeps politics out of their decisions.
“How would you like to go into court knowing that your attorney didn’t contribute to the judge’s election campaign, but the opposing attorney did?” she asked.
This year, out-of-state groups, including one from Alabama, have been investing time and money into an effort to unseat three of the court’s seven judges. Ternus said Alabama ranks 47th for impartiality.
Ternus said Iowa’s system of appointing judges and letting voters decide on their retention is in place and not changing, but a non-retention decision this year tells judges they need to watch what is coming across their desk about controversial, unpopular issues.
A non-retention decision by voters could open the door for political influences in the court system, she continued.
Although Iowa judges, by law, can raise money and campaign, Ternus said they don’t because they don’t want to have the perception that justice can be bought.
Ternus said she cannot advocate for the other two justices on the ballot this year for retention, and she was not really advocating for herself, but trying to explain the importance and effect of a “yes” or “no” vote.
“We have a nationally recognized judiciary … why we’d want to destroy that is beyond me,” she said.
Ternus pointed out that if she and the other two justices are not retained, it is not going to change the Iowa Supreme Court’s decision allowing same-sex marriages.
For the complete article, see the Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2010, printed edition of The Fairfield Ledger.