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GOP lawmakers vow to continue push for judicial impeachment
DES MOINES — A few Republican lawmakers were not impressed with Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Cady’s State of the Judiciary address Wednesday, saying a push for impeachment of the remaining four justices currently under way in the Iowa House should continue.
Cady received a standing ovation when he said courts “serve the law, not the interest of constituents, not the demand of special interest groups, and not the electorate’s reaction to a particular court decision.”
Those standing were largely Democratic legislators and supporters of the justices in the public gallery, while Republicans sat, reflecting a clear party-line split.
Cady spent two-thirds of his State of the Judiciary speech defending against criticisms of the high court. Cady said the justices expected a boisterous reaction to their decision over marriage in Varnum v. Brien, in which Cady wrote the opinion.
“The Iowa Supreme Court has many times in the past decided questions involving civil rights that were once controversial, yet over time, those cases have become a celebrated part of the proud and rich Iowa history of equality for all,” Cady said to a round of applause.
Cady went on to defend the decision over same-sex marriage as judicial review, citing U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall declaring the Court’s role to say what the law is, when the Judiciary Act of 1789 was overturned in Marshall v. Madison. He also cited the Brown v. Board of Education and Citizens United rulings as other federal examples of the judicial branch declaring acts by the legislative branch to be unconstitutional, but were controversial at the time of their rulings.
“This discourse is not new for Iowa, although I doubt it has ever been so strong,” Cady said.
Some Republicans said afterward they felt more passionate about removing the remaining Supreme Court justices because of Cady’s speech.
“I do believe he threw gasoline on a fire and blew oxygen on it at the same time,” said state Sen. Kent Sorenson (R-Indianola).
Other Republicans were also reported to say similar comments to Sorenson’s “gasoline on a fire” metaphor.
Sorenson said Cady displayed a “pompous, arrogant attitude and tried giving the legislature a history lesson.” He went on to say that his choice to remain seated during the numerous standing ovations, as many Republicans did in the now GOP-controlled House, was a reflection of Cady’s speech.
Sorenson has previously said he would help lead the effort to impeach the four remaining justices over their same-sex marriage ruling, however, today he noted it would be up to the House and said he supported changing the way judges are selected.
State Sen. Mark Chelgren (R-Ottumwa) said prior to Cady’s speech he was undecided on whether he supported impeachment for the remaining justices.
“After hearing the new [chief] justice of the Supreme Court, it is clear to me that the remaining justices and the new leader [have] no comprehension of what the separation of powers in our constitution means,” Chelgren said.
Chelgren still believes the court overstepped its bounds when they “enact the inverse of the law” by making same-sex marriage legal and unrestrained in Iowa.
Former Lt. Gov. Joy Corning, a Republican who served under Gov. Terry Branstad, called Cady’s State of the Judiciary address a “superb speech,” saying it was a civics lesson to lawmakers that explained how Iowa has “one of the best [court systems] in the whole country.”
Cady was appointed by Branstad in 1998, the same year the Iowa Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was signed into law by Branstad. That law was overturned in the unanimous Varnum decision, and now after a successful campaign to oust three of the justices up for retention in November, some Republican lawmakers are drafting articles of impeachment for the remaining four.
Gov.-elect Branstad argued against that idea, a stand that Corning praised.
“Gov. Branstad certainly made the right comment that impeachment is not appropriate in this situation at all, there’s been no malfeasance,” Corning told The Iowa Independent.
She said it remains to be seen what impact Tuesday’s speech will have, but doubted the talk of impeachment would go any further than just discussion.
Corning and former Democratic Lt. Gov. Sally Pederson co-chair Justice, Not Politics, which organized a rally to fill the public gallery of the Iowa House chamber with people wearing red in support of the justices for Cady’s speech.
Pederson defended the so-called civics or history lesson, saying it was important to explain the that Supreme Court is a different body than the legislature, and their decisions have been controversial at times.
“My view is that talk of impeachment is reckless and really very detrimental to the work of the legislature, there are important things that need to get done,” Pederson said. “And that a misuse of the impeachment process undermines that ability of to get that work done.”
Pederson didn’t believe the issue of same-sex marriage would remain as hotly contested in the long-term, citing polling, such as KCCI TV’s poll in 2010, showing opposition to it shrinking. She called it a “non-issue” for future generations.
“So in many ways this feels like a last gasp of those people who feel it’s important to prevent some people from not having the same rights,” Pederson said.