retention vote

  • 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.”

  • November 19, 2010
    The vote resulting in the ouster of three Iowa Supreme Court justices for their involvement in a 2009 decision that permitted same-sex marriages in the state was a major victory for people concerned about an allegedly out-of-control judiciary according to a couple of conservative politicians who are said to be eyeing runs for the White House in 2012.

    Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee (pictured), who sought the Republican presidential nomination in 2008, told a Christian radio station host that Iowans were "sick of one branch of government thinking it is more powerful than the other two put together," The Iowa Independent reports. Huckabee also said, "A president has certainly got to respect a ruling of a court, but if a ruling of the court is wrong, and you have two branches of government that determine that it's wrong, then those other two branches supersede the one."

    During a book-signing in Iowa, Newt Gingrich, former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, and also touted as a potential Republican contender for the presidency, said the remaining Iowa Supreme Court justices should resign, a Des Moines Register blog reported. "I mean it's clear if they had been on the ballot, they'd have been repealed," Gingrich said.

    The Iowa Independent also reported that five out-of-state organizations spent $948,355 in the state to oust the judges. The campaign to remove the judges was led, the Independent noted, by a Christian lobbying group, the American Family Association.

    During an ACS event earlier this week on the process of selecting judges, American Bar Association President-elect Wm. T. (Bill) Robinson said the constitutional principle of separation of powers is "under assault," and cited the vote in Iowa. He said the vote against the judges was done "in retaliation for a politically controversial ruling." Robinson said the losers will be citizens who are denied access to fair and impartial courts.

    [image via Gage Skidmore]