JOHNSTON — The Iowa Supreme Court had to rehear many cases after voters ousted three justices over a decision legalizing same-sex marriage, but it weathered the storm and emerged a stronger institution, Chief Justice Mark Cady said Friday.
Conservative groups angered by the unanimous same-sex marriage decision spent heavily to convince voters to throw out then-Chief Justice Marsha Ternus and Justices David Baker and Michael Streit during retention elections in 2010.
Gov. Terry Branstad named Thomas Waterman, Edward Mansfield and Bruce Zager to replace them, and those three along with Justice David Wiggins face retention elections in November.
The new court had to rehear cases in which arguments were originally made before the ousted judges but no decision had been made. That caused delays and raised the cost for people involved in those cases, Cady said.
“It was quite destructive in many ways,” Cady said during a taping of the Iowa Public Television program, “Iowa Press.”
“We got through it. It has made us much stronger and our resolve is strong,” he added.
Cady said the justices have tried to make their work more visible by hearing cases throughout Iowa. The travel is meant to educate the public on court operations and how justices reach their conclusions, he said.
“We feel good about getting around the state,” Cady said. “It’s what our times demand us to do.”
After voters tossed out three judges in 2010, there was some talk among conservatives of impeaching the remaining four or changing the way judges are selected in Iowa. Neither came to pass, and Cady said that was a tribute to the state’s merit-based selection system for picking justices.
In Iowa, a 15-member panel chaired by the senior justice interviews candidates when there’s an opening and sends the governor three finalists. The governor appoints the new justice without a confirmation process. Half of the panel is made up of the governor’s appointees and half is elected by licensed attorneys.
While no formal campaign has been started to oust any of the justices up for a retention election this year, Cady said the court is sensitive to public opinion and has taken steps to meet concerns.
“I’m very concerned about what might lie ahead because I realize what happened a year and a half ago,” he said. “We’re working very, very hard to give Iowans what they deserve and should demand and that’s a court system that meets their needs.”Cady, who wrote the decision legalizing same-sex marriage, doesn’t face a retention election until 2016. Justices face retention votes in the election following their appointment and every eight years after that.