Lawmakers draft impeachment papers for Iowa Supreme Court justices

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March 31, 2014 | 12:30 pm

The buzz created earlier this year by speculation social conservative House freshmen might try to impeach four Iowa Supreme Court justices has faded, but not gone away.

“The articles (of impeachment) have been drafted,” Rep. Glen Massie, R-Des Moines, said. “Now it’s just a timing issue.”

Talk of impeachment began to rise after Iowa voters defeated former Chief Justice Marsha Ternus and Associate Justices Michael Streit and David Baker in retention votes last November and reached a crescendo in the first weeks of the 2011 legislative session.

The justices were targeted by a well-organized and well-financed campaign after they participated in the unanimous Barnum v. Brien decision striking down Iowa’s ban on same-sex marriage.

On the heels of victory at the ballot box, same-sex marriage opponents called for the impeachment of the remaining justice if they did not resign.

Massie and fellow impeachment supporters, who are part of a class of 22 Republican freshmen, are following a timeline they prefer not to disclose. Massie did say they decided to let the judicial nomination and appointment process work. Gov. Terry Branstad has appointed three new Supreme Court justices and Massie indicated articles of impeachment will be filed “at the appropriate time” after the justices are seated.

Another impeachment supporter, Rep. Tom Shaw, R-Laurens, thinks many Republicans have been non-committal, but will change after the first funnel deadline has passed.

Massie concedes it’s not a given that impeachment has the support of the GOP caucus which controls the House by a 60-40 margin.

Regardless of the caucus position, Iowans don’t want impeachment, according to Justice Not Politics, a group organized to retain members of the Supreme Court.

“The threat by three Iowa legislators to impeach four state Supreme Court justices is a misuse of the impeachment process for political gain, with no respect for the long-term destructive effects for our state,” Justice Not Politics said in a statement March 3. “Not only is it a dangerous idea with serious consequences, but a distraction and out of touch with the priorities of Iowans.”

The group noted an Iowa Poll over the weekend found the majority of Iowans say the removal of the justices was bad for the state.

However, Shaw said there’s no lack of encouragement from Iowans for impeachment.

“People are still encouraging us,” said Shaw, adding that the passage of time does not mean people’s passion for impeachment has cooled. “If it was wrong when they made the decision, it’s still wrong.”

The issue “absolutely” is alive outside the Capitol, Massie added

At the Capitol, there’s no clear indication of support for impeachment among House Republicans.

Early in the session, one assistant GOP leader speculated he could count on one hand the number of House Republicans supporting impeachment.

That may have been the case then, Massie said, “but I think minds may have changed since then.”

He hasn’t changed the mind of Speaker Kraig Paulsen who thought the issues would come to a head sooner rather than later in the session “because of the attention it was getting and the amount of contacts we were getting both for and against it.

“But it seems to have fallen off the table,” the Hiawatha Republican said this week.

Paulsen insists that despite the ouster of three justices, he doesn’t think the message of the election was that voters wanted lawmakers to fire the four remaining members of the court.

There’s been no discussion of impeachment in the GOP caucus and he’s hearing little talk about it from caucus members.

“The contact I’ve gotten from people – although admittedly I’ve had contacts both directions – the ones saying not to address impeachment far outweigh the ones advocating impeachment,” Paulsen said.

The lack of discussion should not be taken as a sign of a lack of support for impeachment, Massie insisted. He’s encouraged by caucus discussion about the source of law.

The question is whether laws are just the rules of men or whether his Republican colleagues “recognize what our founders recognized, what has been recognized from Cicero to St. Augustine to John Locke, by 250 founding fathers and Martin Luther King, that all said, any law that contradicts God’s law is no law at all.”

Despite Paulsen’s comments, Massie believes the speaker has an open mind on the issue.

“If the majority of the caucus agrees with our logic, he’ll run with it,” Massie said. “It’s up to us to make our case.

“It’s my responsibility to make the argument,” Massie said. “The outcome is in God’s hands.”

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