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Dueling campaigns begin over Iowa justice

September 25, 2012

DES MOINES - The campaigns for and against Iowa Supreme Court Justice David Wiggins launched competing bus tours Monday at the state Capitol.

Social conservatives seeking to oust Wiggins in a November retention vote were led by former candidate for governor Bob Vander Plaats and former Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum. They gathered in front of the Capitol by two buses with "No Wiggins" logos.

Once that event ended, another backed by the Iowa State Bar Association, an attorney's group, began. Speakers included Republican Gov. Terry Branstad's niece, Christine Branstad, a Des Moines attorney. They called for retaining Wiggins, who angered social conservatives when he joined in a unanimous 2009 ruling legalizing same-sex marriage in Iowa.

Article Photos

Former Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum speaks before the start of a bus tour campaign by Iowans for Freedom that is trying to convince Iowans to vote off the bench Iowa Supreme Court Justice David Wiggins in November, Monday in Des Moines. Wiggins is targeted by the group because he joined in a unanimous 2009 ruling that legalized gay marriage in the state.

Vander Plaats, who ran unsuccessfully for governor three times as a Republican, orchestrated the 2010 campaign to oust three of the Supreme Court justices who were part of the 7-0 ruling in 2009. He said it will be a tough battle to get Wiggins voted out with the lawyer's group running an opposing campaign.

"We know the bar association is going to do the chicken thing and they're going to follow us around because they don't have what it takes to develop their own tour," he said.

Iowa's justices face a retention vote every eight years. In 2010, Chief Justice Marsha Ternus, David Baker and Michael Streit were on the ballot. They failed to get a simple majority to maintain their seats.

Vander Plaats said leaving the judges on the bench who decided the gay marriage case could threaten other rights.

"If they'll redefine the institution of marriage, they won't even blink an eye when they take away your private property, when they take away your guns, when they tell you how to educate your children, when they take away your religious liberty or when they take away your freedom of the press," he said.

The lawyers providing the counterpoint to Vander Plaats with their own bus tour say the issue at stake is not gay marriage but maintaining a fair and impartial court system immune from the pressures of politics.

"We don't want to return to the days where politics have been injected into our system and remove the fair and impartial courts that we have that are well respected throughout the country," said Guy Cook, a Des Moines layer and president-elect of the Iowa State Bar Association.

Vander Plaats vows to continue to work until all the justices involved in the ruling are voted out.

The remaining justices involved in the gay marriage decision - Mark Cady, Daryl Hecht, and Brent Appel - face retention votes in 2016.

Santorum characterized the judges who decided the gay marriage issue as elites "who believe they know best how to right the laws and change the Constitution while they run roughshod over the rights of the people."

Later in the week, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is scheduled to join the tour. The anti-Wiggins bus tour will travel to 17 cities this week, about 1,300 miles Vander Plaats said.

Branstad criticized Vander Plaats for again claiming he's running a grass-roots effort supported by Iowans when the campaign is funded by out-of-state money contributed by political action groups. Vander Plaats' effort in 2010 received an estimated $1 million in contributions from five organizations opposing gay marriage from outside Iowa.

"The campaign against Iowa's judiciary by Bob Vander Plaats is funded by out-of-state money, the speakers are from out of state, and the buses are from out of state," she said. "It is simply an exercise in the use of PAC money and special interest money and out of state interests."

Dan Moore, a Sioux City lawyer and past president of the Iowa State Bar Association said Vander Plaats is spreading false statements about the court decision. He said the justices didn't bypass the Constitution in their decision but upheld its protections.

The judges decided that under the equal protection clause of the Constitution the state could not deny same-sex couples a marriage license. They struck down an Iowa law that allowed only a man and a woman to be legally married.

"We call upon Iowans to reject their use of prejudices and falsehoods and to reject their efforts to politicize our courts," Moore said.

While justices can raise money and campaign to keep their jobs, they have chosen not to become so political. That's why the lawyers' group decided to begin a campaign early in the process this year.

The ouster of the three justices in 2010 marked the first time since the retention system was created in 1962 that a state Supreme Court justice had been removed.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.



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