Bob Vander Plaats

  • November 7, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    State court judges in Iowa and Florida remain on the bench despite the fevered and well-funded efforts to remove them because of their involvement in rulings that rankled conservatives.

    In Iowa, State Supreme Court Justice David Wiggins, who was part of the majority in the 2009 Varnum v. Brien decision that supported marriage equality, retained his seat with about 55 percent of the vote. In Iowa 50 percent of the vote is needed to hold judicial seats. Some of the same organizations and individuals who successfully removed three other Iowa Supreme Court justices in 2010 – again for their involvement in advancing marriage equality – were targeting Wiggins. Typically judicial retention votes are intended for removing judges from the bench because of ethical breaches, corruption or incompetence. But religious right groups such as the National Organization for Marriage, the American Family Association and the so-called Iowans for Freedom committee abused the retention vote to go after judges for doing their jobs. But their efforts this time faltered.  

    Religious right activist Bob Vander Plaats, also involved with the Iowans freedom group, told the Des Moines Register that Wiggins’ retention vote of nearly 55 percent was “not a great validation for Justice Wiggins.”

    The newspaper noted that the other judges up for retention votes, but not targeted by the religious groups, retained their high court seats with vote “totals of more than 74 percent.” The Register surmises that the lower vote for Wiggins (pictured) might fuel another effort by religious right groups to target the other justices involved in the Varnum majority when they face retention votes in 2016. Plaats refused to speculate on those justices.

    In Florida an effort funded by a Super Pac of the billionaire rightwing Koch brothers also flopped. The brothers’ Super Pac had urged voters to remove three Florida Supreme Court justices, primarily for their involvement in scuttling a 2010 ballot measure declaring that Affordable Care Act would not the law in the Florida. (This summer, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the law’s integral provision, the one requiring most Americans starting carrying a minimum amount of health care insurance in 2014.)

    But Justices R. Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente and Peggy Quince “easily” survived the retention votes, The Miami Heraldreports. As in Iowa, the justices only need a 50 percent vote to retain their seats. Despite “an unprecedented campaign” to dislodge the justices, The Herald reported that all three received “about two-thirds of the vote, with most votes counted.”

  • September 24, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Religious Right activists are again itching to hobble the judiciary by threatening its ability to remain independent from heavy-handed politicos. And again, the Religious Right, not surprisingly, is targeting a state court justice who had the audacity to join a unanimous Iowa Supreme Court in finding that a statewide law banning same-sex marriage violated the state constitution’s equal protection clause.

    In fall 2010 three of the Iowa Supreme Court justices involved in that pro-equality ruling were voted off the bench in so-called retention votes. The effort to oust the judges was led primarily by Religious Right organizations, such as the National Organization for Marriage, which spent at least $200,000 to help reshape the Iowa Supreme Court, by yanking from the bench justices who supported the Iowa Constitution’s protection of fundamental rights. The American Family Association, a longtime Religious Right group, dedicated to demonizing the LGBT community was also instrumental in removing the Iowa Supreme Court justices.  

    Religious Right lobbyists obsessed with making life miserable for the LGBT community are mounting a concerted effort to yank Justice David Wiggins, another of the justices involved in the opinion, from the court. The Des Moines Register reports on the efforts of Bob Vander Plaats, head of the Religious Right lobbying group The Family Leader, and former presidential hopeful Rick Santorum to rally Iowans to vote Wiggins (pictured) off the bench.

    Plaats and his group were also a major force in the 2010 effort to yank justices from the Iowa Supreme Court. The Family Leader describes itself as “a consistent, courageous voice in churches, in the legislature, in the media, in the courtroom, in the public square … always standing for God’s truth.”

    At a rally this morning at the state capitol, former presidential hopeful Rick Santorum argued that the Iowa Supreme Court had sided with freedom over virtue, as Jens Manuel Krogstad wrote for the Register. Santorum and Plaats are on a bus tour of 17 cities to call for the ouster of Wiggins.

    Unlike 2010, the Religious Right effort to remake the state Supreme Court is being answered with an effort organized in part by attorneys and elected officials. The Register noted a counter rally at the capitol where speakers defended the independence of the courts.

  • August 5, 2011
    Guest Post

    By Steve Sanders, visiting assistant professor, University of Michigan Law School


    The political media are about to begin obsessing over the Iowa Republican straw poll, scheduled for Saturday, August 13.  Recent commentary has focused on how religious conservatives have gained a chokehold on Iowa GOP politics.  Evangelical Christian activists remain outraged at the 2009 decision of the Iowa Supreme Court to legalize same-sex marriage.  Last fall, they mounted a well-funded campaign to oust three of the justices who signed that ruling.  Their TV ads  – juxtaposing footage of villainish-looking "liberal, out of control judges" against images of hunters in camouflage and a chubby kid saluting the flag – accused the justices of "ignoring our traditional values" and "imposing their own values."

    Now, activist Bob Vander Plaats, who led the anti-court jihad, is pressuring presidential candidates to sign something called "The Marriage Vow," which includes a pledge of "[v]igorous opposition to any redefinition of the Institution of Marriage – faithful monogamy between one man and one woman – through statutory-, bureaucratic-, or court-imposed recognition of intimate unions which are bigamous, polygamous, polyandrous, same-sex, etc."  Religious-right darlings Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum were the first candidates to enthusiastically sign up.

    The picture of Iowa we get from the mainstream media through next year's caucuses is likely to be of a state in the grip of militant Tea Partiers and theocrats.  That would be a shame, because the agenda of these particular activists – with their narrow view of social equality and hostility toward an independent judiciary – is unfaithful to the state's social and legal heritage.

  • July 13, 2011

    Politicians seeking the Republican presidential nomination are splitting over how closely they want to associate with a Religious Right Iowa group dubbed FAMiLY LEADER, and comedians are having a field day with the organization’s blatantly bigoted “marriage vow” pledge, but in a column for the Des Moines Register Graham Gillette says the group’s “nonsense” is not that funny. (Republican presidential candidates Rep. Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum, a longtime darling of the Religious Right, have both signed the pledge. Former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney has distanced himself from the so-called “Marriage Vow” pledge, TPMDC reports.)

    The group, led by Bob Vander Plaats, who helped lead the efforts to oust the Iowa Supreme Court justices who ruled that the state’s anti-gay marriage law is unconstitutional, has a long and tawdry record of using his Christian Right platform to trash the LGBT community. RightWingWatch notes that Plaats “is also tied to an effort that likened being gay to being a cigarette smoker and once said that allowing equal marriage rights for gay couples threatened the system of private property and gun-ownership rights. One former adviser said that Vander Plaats is ‘obsessed with the gay marriage issue.’”  

    The group’s website describes itself as a “consistent, courageous voice in the churches, in the legislature, in the media, in the courtroom, in the public square … always standing for God’s truth.”

    The group’s marriage vow pledge, which it asked the Republican candidates to sign, included in its original preamble the wildly bigoted claim that “African-American families were more secure under slavery than they are today, under an African-American president,” TPMDC reports. That language, TPMDC notes, has since been removed from the pledge.

    The marriage vow, however, still includes some laughably outlandish language.

    For example its preamble states, “Faithful monogamy is at the very heart of a designed and purposeful order – as conveyed by Jewish and Christian Scripture, by Classical Philosophers, by Natural Law, and by the American Founders – upon which our concepts of Creator-endowed human rights, racial justice and gender equality all depend.”

    Moreover “marriage fidelity,” only between men and women “protects innocent children, vulnerable women, the rights of fathers, the stability of families, and the liberties of all American citizens under our republican form of government.”

    The historical inaccuracy and general idiocy of the marriage pledge obviously doesn’t matter to Plaats, and apparently neither to the politicos who have agreed to peddle his far-right “nonsense.”