3 Iowa justices ousted, rulings likely slowed

The Associated Press
Wednesday, November 3, 2010; 9:01 PM

DES MOINES, Iowa -- Iowa Supreme Court rulings will be slowed after a contentious campaign persuaded voters to oust three justices, who supported a decision legalizing gay marriage, a court official said Wednesday.

Chief Justice Marsha Ternus and justices David Baker and Michael Streit were voted off the bench in Tuesday's election, creating multiple vacancies on the court for the first time since its inception.

The three were among seven justices who unanimously decided last year that an Iowa law restricting marriage to a man and a woman violated the state's constitution. They will leave at the end of the year.

There are likely to be delays in issuing rulings until the vacancies are filled, said state court administrator David Boyd.

"Four people cannot produce the same number of opinions that seven can produce," Boyd said. "The court will be able to function, however at a much slower pace."

Tuesday was the first time Iowa voters removed a Supreme Court justice since the current system began in 1962.

Gay marriage foes spent an estimated $1 million on the campaign to oust the judges, who chose not to raise money or campaign themselves. But a group of former governors, lawyers and judges formed Fair Courts For Us to support them, saying Iowa's independent judiciary was at risk if a one-issue campaign succeeded in removing the justices.

"What I want Iowans to know is that our courtrooms need to be the safest place for parties to go to work out their differences and disputes," said Dan Moore, the group's co-chairman. "They need to know courts will be fair and impartial and decisions won't be based on fear and popularity."

Opponents of gay marriage emboldened by the election's outcome, however, said they plan to press Republicans who took over the governor's office and the state House to work toward a ban.

"We held a court in check, but now we want action from the governor's office and action from the Legislature," said Bob Vander Plaats, a Sioux City businessman and former Republican candidate for governor who led the effort to remove the justices.

Once the secretary of state certifies election results, which must be done by Nov. 29, the state's 15-member judicial nominating commission will have 60 days to give the names of three nominees to the governor for each Supreme Court vacancy. The governor then will have 30 days to make appointments.

The timeline for filling the vacancies makes it virtually impossible for Gov. Chet Culver to be able to fill them before he leaves office Jan. 14. He was defeated by former Republican Gov. Terry Branstad in Tuesday's election.

"Since this is unprecedented it's obviously leaving everybody a little on the confused side," said Culver spokesman Jim Flansburg. "There's a right way to do things and a wrong way and that's what we're reviewing."

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