The Des Moines Register had an article about the judicial retention election on their front page. It was a “news” story, but not really. It was meant to plant seeds of doubt in voters minds. The headline was “Money changes everything on retaining Iowa’s justices.” The subheading is “Expert says $400,000 spent on campaign could ‘taint’ process.” This article practically ignores what also taints the judicial process – judges who overstep constitutional authority to “make law” from the bench.
Personally I’m not advocating for Iowa to turn to judicial popular elections. I have advocated for a Federal system of judicial appointments because the Missouri plan is asinine. The system is broken already. The Iowa Bar Association has far, far too much control of the judicial nomination process and the people don’t have a say in who is selected via elected officials. There is a reason few states utilize this process.
They bemoan the money spent, but unfortunately money is necessary to educate voters on either side (as if they vote yes people aren’t spending money). I’ve been asked numerous times is there a website where somebody can find information out about judges up for retention. There isn’t. People want to be educated, but there are no tools except the Iowa State Bar Association’s survey that isn’t worth much since they’re defending Justice David Wiggins who only scored a 63% on his survey.
How can they defend that guy? Their own members think he’s lousy!
I’m also not personally advocating voting no on just any judge. I do want to be selective because I also want to send a message – if you discard the separation of powers you are going to be held accountable. There will be at least three more justices targeted after this, and after that – we’ll see how the new court responds. I don’t want them to be afraid. I just want them to follow the Constitution and only do what the Constitution says that they can do.
What I and others are doing is acting on a constitutional process given to us by the Iowa Constitution. Article V, Section 17 says:
Members of all courts shall have such tenure in office as may be fixed by law, but terms of supreme court judges shall be not less than eight years and terms of district court judges shall be not less than six years. Judges shall serve for one year after appointment and until the first day of January following the next judicial election after the expiration of such year. They shall at such judicial election stand for retention in office on a separate ballot which shall submit the question of whether such judge shall be retained in office for the tenure prescribed for such office and when such tenure is a term of years, on their request, they shall, at the judicial election next before the end of each term, stand again for retention on such ballot. Present supreme court and district court judges, at the expiration of their respective terms, may be retained in office in like manner for the tenure prescribed for such office. The general assembly shall prescribe the time for holding judicial elections.
There wasn’t any set criteria as some would have you believe. You can vote no on retention for any reason you want. This isn’t like impeachment there is strict criteria for that for the simple reason it is removing a judge in the middle of his or her term. That isn’t the case with a retention vote. I wrote earlier this month:
The Iowa Supreme Court can also issue bad rulings. We have a recourse with the Legislature does that – we can vote them out. Our recourse for bad rulings is the judicial retention elections. When are we supposed to exercise this right? If there is never a reason to vote no on retention then why have a vote at all? The Iowa Constitution provides us a check on the Iowa Supreme Court so we should use it when appropriate, not just when the legal and political establishment tells us to (which will be never).
Those who want you to vote yes will complain about the money, which is necessary. They’ll complain about you voting no, which under the Constitution is also your right. They don’t complain about a judicial branch that needs to be checked because well status quo is in their favor. Money isn’t what tainted Iowa’s judicial process. Judges disobeying the Constitution, and a sham judicial nomination process has.