Election Losses of Iowa Justices Hurt Gay Marriage Efforts Nationwide

November 3, 2010

Last year the seven justices of the Iowa Supreme Court declared unconstitutional a state law that denied same sex marriage. Yesterday, three of those justices were voted out of office. The other four weren’t up for reelection.

Why the Iowa Justices Lost

Their election losses were the culmination of a campaign by out-of-state special interest groups to punish the justices for effectively making gay marriage legal in the state. Grant Shulte of the Des Moines Register reported today:

The ouster effort grew out of the April 2009 gay marriage ruling that stunned the nation, outraged social conservatives and turned Iowa into the first Midwestern state to sanction same-sex marriage. . .

Groups that wanted the justices ousted poured more than $650,000 into their effort, with heavy support from out-of-state conservative and religious groups. Campaigns that supported the justices and the current state court system spent more than $200,000.

The success of the campaign against the three justices is particularly striking considering the justices opponents: nobody. All the justices had to due was get a simple majority to vote to retain them in office, something no justice had failed to do in Iowa since that state adopted their judicial election system in 1962.

Why the Election Losses Matter

The election losses makes it less likely that elected justices in other states will declare anti-gay-marriage laws unconstitutional in their own jurisdictions.

Unlike the justices for U.S. Supreme Court, justices for 36 state supreme courts, including Iowa, are subject to an election or retention. When these justices next decide gay marriage issues, they might now think twice before ruling in favor of gay marriage. The ability for out-of-state groups to fund campaigns against them could mean placing their job at risk if they issue an opinion supporting gay marriage.

In fact, that’s exactly what the opposition group set out to do, according to Vander Plaats, the group’s leader. Three months ago he said:

The ultimate goal is, hopefully, by voting these three justices off of the court on November 2, that we’ll send a message not only across Iowa but hopefully across the country about what was our founders’ intent about the separation of powers.

Plaats did send a message, but not that one. Instead, the message across the country was about what special interest groups will do to justices who vote against gay marriage bans.

About Gideon Alper

Gideon Alper
Gideon is a Florida attorney that focuses on gay adoption, LGBT estate planning, and second parent adoption.

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