On Tuesday, Iowa voters chose to oust three Iowa Supreme Court justices who joined in that court’s unanimous decision to permit same-sex marriage. Chief Justice Masha Ternus, Justice David Baker, and Justice Michael Streit failed to receive the required simple majority of votes to retain their spots on the bench. The outcome marked the first time any Iowa Supreme Court justice has not been retained since 1962, when Iowa began using its current merit selection and retention system for judges. The three removed justices will continue to serve until December 31, 2010, while the remaining four justices on the court will come up for retention in 2012 or 2016, as the judges serve staggered, eight-year terms.
The result followed a well-financed “vote no” campaign led by gay marriage opponent Bob Vander Plaats, who accused three of being “activist judges” who were “amending Iowa’s Constitution from the bench.” Organizations from outside Iowa, such as the National Organization for Marriage, the American Families Association, the Family Research Council, and Citizens United, spent nearly $800,000 to finance the campaign to remove the justices, according to Washington D.C. watchdog group Justice at Stake Campaign. Fair Courts for Us reported spending nearly $400,000 in support of the judges.
Varnum v. Brien, the controversial decision legalizing gay marriage in Iowa, continues to be Iowa law, though Vander Plaats has publicly encouraged Governor-Elect Terry Branstad to issue an executive order overturning the ruling, though the legality of such a move has been questioned by Branstad and others.