BY GRANT SCHULTE, Des Moines Register
Three Iowa Supreme Court justices lost their seats Tuesday in a historic upset fueled by their 2009 decision that allowed same-sex couples to marry.
Vote totals from 96 percent of Iowa’s 1,774 precincts showed Chief Justice Marsha Ternus and Justices David Baker and Michael Streit with less than the simple majority needed to stay on the bench.
Their removal marked the first time an Iowa Supreme Court justice has not been retained since 1962, when the merit selection and retention system for judges was adopted.
The decision is expected to echo to courts throughout the country, as conservative activists had hoped. “It appears we’re headed for a resounding victory tonight and a historic moment in the state of Iowa,” said Bob Vander Plaats, the Sioux City businessman who led a campaign to remove the justices because of the 2009 gay marriage ruling. “The people of Iowa stood up in record numbers and sent a message … that it is ‘We the people,’ not ‘We the courts.’ ”
In a statement issued early today, the three justices said: “We hope Iowans will continue to support Iowa’s merit selection system for appointing judges. This system helps ensure that judges base their decisions on the law and the Constitution and nothing else. Ultimately, however, the preservation of our state’s fair and impartial courts will require more than the integrity and fortitude of individual judges, it will require the steadfast support of the people.”
Not everyone agreed with Vander Plaats or the majority of voters.
“In the end, the aggressive campaign to misuse the judicial retention vote, funded by out-of-state special interests, has succeeded,” Drake University Law School Dean Allan Vestal said. “The loss of these three justices is most unfortunate, and the damage to our judicial system and the merit selection of judges will take much to repair.”
Ternus, Streit and Baker will remain on the bench until Dec. 31.
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