DES MOINES - Forces active on both sides of this year's judicial retention vote in Iowa verbally clashed Monday outside the Capitol with warnings that ousting up to 74 judges on the ballot would wreak havoc on public safety and counter claims that the voting booth is the only place left to stop "black-robed bandits" from taking people's rights.
A coalition of groups urging voters to reject Iowa Supreme Court justices Marsha Ternus, Michael Streit and David Baker on the Nov. 2 ballot launched a 20-city, four-day bus tour blasting the judicial trio as activists who attempted to legislate from the bench by creating a right for couples of the same gender to marry that was never envisioned by constitutional framers and does not exist in Iowa law.
"We in the heartland have been taken hostage and we resent it," said Tamara Scott, leader of Concerned Women for America.
"This is you, the voter's, only voice. It is the direct voice to restrain judiciary activism. This is the only direct route you have, utilize it," added Scott, an Ankeny woman who charged that Ternus, Streit and Baker "acted as black-robed bandits, taking what was our right."
U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Kiron, who helped draft Iowa's Defense of Marriage law in 1998 that defined marriage as only between one man and one woman - the law the Iowa Supreme Court unanimously struck down in April 2009 as unconstitutional - said a vote to oust the three justices Nov. 2 will "echo across the land" and give encouragement to Americans fighting to take their constitution and country back.
King said the 7-0 ruling that opened the door for same-sex marriages in Iowa was activist because the justices "ruled that they have found rights in the constitution that were, up to this point, unimagined," a decision that tilted the balance of power among the governmental branches. At the same time, he applauded other judicial rulings that went his way in challenging executive-branch actions on issues dealing with English as Iowa's official language and granting protections for homosexuals in state employment.
Former Iowa Lt. Gov. Arthur Neu of Carroll, a member of the bipartisan Fair Court For Us group, told a counter rally that Iowa voters should not allow outside special interests to turn Iowa's judicial retention vote into a referendum on one issue. He warned that the initial campaign to target three Supreme Court justices "has escalated into the single most dangerous threat to public safety and the function of our courts in Iowa history" because some opponents are advocating to vote "no" on all 74 Iowa judges on the 2010 ballot.
"The removal of judges across Iowa would shut down entire communities and shut down our legal system," Neu said. "I don't think any of us can contemplate the break down of our judicial system should anything close to what they're proposing take place."
U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said leaders of the vote "no" campaign have "whipped up" people into thinking that defeating judges will make the state better when in reality it would mean "turmoil" and "throw law enforcement into an upheaval" if dozens of judicial positions were vacated next Jan. 1.
Chuck Hurley, a former state lawmakers who leads the Iowa Family Policy Center Action, said there is no organized effort to get people to vote against all judges on the ballot, although he acknowledged he personally would vote against all the judges that appear on the ballot that he votes in part because they have declined to answer the group's questionnaires and have not repudiated the decision that struck down Iowa's 1998 marriage law. He said he communicated those reasons by email to IFPC members last week in response to inquiries about his personal view.
"I am not telling voters how to vote," Hurley said in an interview. ""It's a red herring. They're grasping for something other than the main issue and they're trying to do fear mongering. That's fear mongering, saying that it's going to shut down the courts and it's not going to happen. I'm a convenient boogeyman. I'm used to it."
However, Bonnie Campbell, a former Iowa attorney general, pointed to a Montana license plate on the tour bus opponents are using to fan their "no" vote sentiment to emphasize the effort is being spearheaded by big money "out-of-state special interests" who are trying to tell Iowans what is best for them without considering the full impact of the action.
"Why do they have to? They won't be here after Nov. 3, but the rest of us will," she said.
"The attacks against our judiciary here in Iowa in this election are unprecedented. Justice in Iowa should not be for sale. Our system works, it truly does," Campbell added.