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GOP lawmakers drafting legislation to impeach Supreme Court justices
Three freshmen Republican members of the Iowa House are drafting legislation that would begin the process of impeachment for the remaining four justices on the state Supreme Court over a 2009 ruling that legalized same-sex marriage.
State Reps. Tom Shaw (R-Laurens), Glen Massie (R-Des Moines) and Kim Pearson (R-Pleasant Hill) are working on the legislation that could result in the removal of the four justices — Mark Cady, David Wiggins, Daryl Hecht and Brent Appel. During last month’s judicial retention vote, three justices were removed from the bench after a contentious campaign that saw five out-of-state anti-gay organizations spend nearly $1 million to oust the judges.
The impeachment effort got a boost Wednesday when Speaker-elect Kraig Paulsen (R-Hiawatha) said if he thought Iowans wanted the four justices removed, he would not stand in the way. A few days earlier, state Sen. Kent Sorenson (R-Indianola), who will sit on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he will also push for impeachment proceedings.
Paulsen was immediately criticized by LGBT-rights group One Iowa, who called his remarks “reckless.” Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal (D-Council Bluffs) said unless Paulsen has some evidence that the justices committed a “misdemeanor or malfeasance,” the legislature should focus its efforts on job creation, not impeachment.
According to the Iowa Constitution, a justice can be impeached “for any misdemeanor or malfeasance in office.” If the House passes articles of impeachment by a simple majority, a trial will be held in the Senate, where a two-thirds majority is needed for a judge to be removed.
“Are Republicans really considering shutting down state government to pursue an extreme, partisan agenda that will do nothing to help middle class families?” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (D-Des Moines) said in a statement to The Iowa Independent. “The House has no business spending weeks on impeachment proceedings instead of putting Iowans back to work and growing our economy.”
Ben Stone, executive director of the ACLU of Iowa, called Paulsen’s statements about impeachment “shocking.”
“His willingness to support the impeachment of public servants who have done nothing illegal or fraudulent if it is politically popular to do so, is not only highly regrettable, it is beneath the dignity of a leader of his stature and experience,” he said. “Many Iowans are asking themselves how far these attacks on the judiciary are going to go. They are baffled at how experienced, thoughtful people who surely understand the distinct roles of the three branches of our 164 year-old government can nonetheless endorse the notion that judges should be removed for political reasons.”
Paulsen spoke with the Cedar Rapids Gazette’s Todd Dorman about his statements, saying impeachment won’t be on the Iowa House’s agenda unless Iowans put it there.
“If Iowans get excited about it and start communicating that. It’s no different than any other question before us,” Paulsen said. “I don’t have reservations about doing what Iowans want us to do.”
He told Dorman that thus far the reaction to his comments have been overwhelmingly in support of keeping the judges on the bench.
Bob Vander Plaats, who led the anti-retention campaign and now serves as president and CEO of The Family Leader, said Iowans have already spoken on the issue.
“I think Iowans let their voice be heard on Nov. 2,” Vander Plaats said in an interview with The Iowa Independent. “The 540,000 who voted ‘no’ would have voted ‘no’ on all seven. All seven would have been off. I think Speaker-elect Paulsen has the answer he’s looking for. I think Iowans would love to see the remaining judges removed.”
However, the justices should avoid the lengthy impeachment process and instead resign on their own, Vander Plaats said.
“Resignation is the best step and the most dignified step for the judges,” he said. “They have to realize that there was a vote of no confidence for all seven.”
The ACLU’s Stone previously said Vander Plaats’ call for the justices to resign is about revenge, not good government.
“Calling for these resignations is premature,” he said. “These four justices will eventually come up for retention votes. Until those elections take place, the justices should do their jobs to the best of their abilities. Calling for their resignations now demonstrates little more than a push for retribution.”