Iowa Supreme Court Justice Marsha Ternus recently interviewed with Iowa Public Radio’s The Exchange ProgramIn the interview she criticized a proposal (HJR 2013) by State Representative Kent Sorenson (R-Indianola) to go back to direct election of judges instead of the merit-based appointment process.  She said it would be a step backwards for the state.

Iowans were bright enough in the 1960s to go to merit selection for judges.  So our judges are chosen on the basis of their professional qualifications, their integrity, and their ability to do the job. If we go to political elections it would change the entire nature of judiciary.

I agree, it would change the entire nature of the judiciary.  I can also see problems with direct election, especially in terms of campaign financing.  So I can’t say that I’m in favor of direct elections either.  I think Chief Justice Ternus is being naive if she thinks that politics or ideology don’t come into play in the nomination process however.  I think the problem is how nominations occur.  The Iowa Constitution states that members of state and district nominating commissions who are appointed are appointed by the Governor and then confirmed by the Senate.  The elected members, however, are “elected by the resident members of the bar of the state.”  A Senior Supreme Court Justice (other than the Chief Justice) is to serve as the chairman of the state nominating commission.  A Senior District Court Judge is to serve as a chairman of the district nominating commission.

Does anyone think that The Iowa State Bar Association should really have that much control of the process?  And we are to believe that politics and ideology doesn’t play a role at all?  No wonder the Iowa Bar Association doesn’t like this bill, their lobbyist, Jim Carney, said to The Quad City Times that they don’t like this proposal or one being advanced by State Representative Rod Roberts (HJR 2012) that calls for the appointment of nine justices one from each district and one at large.

The Quad City Times reports:

It’s not what the Iowa Bar Association wants, especially the direct election of judges.

"We’re on the merit system," bar lobbyist Jim Carney said. "States that elect justices have unbelievable problems."

The bar doesn’t look favorably on geographic balance, either.

"We want the best candidate, wherever they are in the state without restrictions," Carney said.

Honestly I don’t care what the Iowa Bar Association wants, but no wonder they don’t want it.  They’d lose influence!  They shouldn’t be involved in the process at all with the exception of giving feedback.  Something any citizen should be able to do.  As far as having geographical balance, that just makes sense.  I’m sure the Bar would rather all of the justices come from Des Moines or Eastern Iowa though.  I like Robert’s idea, and I think the elected members of the commissions should be elected by the people.  I mean we vote on who serves on water and soil conservation boards for crying out loud, why not this?

Chief Justice Ternus also doesn’t think that the retention vote that Supreme Court Justices have to go through every eight years (District Court Judges every six) should be used as a referendum.  Ternus along with Justices Michael Streit and David Bake are up for retention in November.  She said:

Because we have a merit system, that ‘yes’ or ‘no’ vote should be exercised on the basis of ‘Is the judge performing his or her duties competently and as one would expect a fair and impartial decision maker to perform those duties.  I’m confident that the people of Iowa want to retain the system that we have and make it work in the way it was intended to work.

I would say if the question is if the judge is performing his or her duties competently, then the answer would have to be no, since they overstepped their constitutional authority in the same-sex ruling decision.  Right now this is our only recourse.  When you have decisions like this, and the one made by the District Judge, Timothy O’Grady, in Fremont County it is our duty to make sure these people no longer serve on the bench.  My only complaint with the retention vote provision in the Iowa Constitution is that it doesn’t allow a vote sooner.  Every four years would be more appropriate.  Perhaps she thinks impeachment would be better.

There needs to be accountability for the Judiciary, but Ternus and The Iowa State Bar Association would rather keep status quo.  It shouldn’t surprise us that they want what is in their own best interest not yours.

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  1. Whether or not you like the decision is beside the point, the decision overturning the marriage ban is good law. And by this I mean that it follows from a impartial and neutral interpretation of the Iowa constitution. If you want to use the power of the legislature to change the system and stack the court full of justices who are going to be biased in favor of a conservative agenda, then that’s your prerogative. I’m not an Iowan, it’s really no skin off my nose, but then don’t turn around and try to tell me that you don’t like “activist” judges when it comes to issues like abortion and other civil rights issues. If you want the court to uphold a statutory same-sex marriage ban in violation of Iowa Const. art. I, § 6 (not to mention the clear weight of precedent), then they will be legislating from the bench, it’s as simple as that. Clearly you’re in favor of activists judges when they advance a conservative agenda, so you can no longer say that you want judges who to be neutral.
    .-= Guy Incognito´s last blog ..Bring Me Another! =-.

    1. @Guy Incognito, You are making a big, big assumption that judges are impartial and neutral. With the Iowa Bar Associations involvement in the selection process there is a problem, and the people are not allowed to have a voice. I’m not advocating judges running for office, but I think the people should have a say on who serves on the nominating commission, not the Bar association.

      Clear weight of precedent? What precedent? Regarding Iowa Constitution Article I, Section 6 it says, “the general assembly shall not grant to any citizen, or class of citizens, privileges or immunities, which, upon the same terms shall not equally belong to all citizens.”

      DOMA didn’t do that. Everybody has the same ability to obtain a marriage license to marry a person of the opposite sex. Actually this ruling violates that in that they give homosexuals special rights.

      Yours is not a slam dunk argument, and putting the ruling aside. How it was applied violates the Constitution and where the judges overstepped their authority. Instead of saying, this is now in effect, thereby creating law. They should have deferred it back to the Legislature for either for them to pass a same-sex marriage law or start the amendment process.

      The Court created a Constitutional crisis in Iowa.

Comments are closed.

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