Something is Rotten (with “Merit” Selection) in the State of Iowa
September 14, 2010
Proponents of “merit” selection always claim that retention elections preserve judicial accountability. But apparently their support for retention elections applies only as long as voters rubber stamp the judges hand-chosen for them by the secret nominating commissions. Indeed, the mere possibility that voters might actually exercise that right to hold a judge accountable is enough to incite panic within the “merit” selection movement.
In Iowa, three Supreme Court justices face tough retention elections after overturning Iowa’s recently enacted law protecting traditional marriage. So, last week a cabal of “merit” selection supporters – including the movement’s Grande Dame, former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor – rushed to the state to instruct voters that retention elections were never really intended to allow people to hold activist judges accountable.
In Justice O’Connor’s words, judges need to “be protected from retaliation for their judicial actions.” What can that possibly imply, other than telling Iowans they shouldn’t use retention elections to hold judges accountable?
Another panelist, Dean of the Drake University Law School, Allan Vestal, was even more forthright. As one observer put it, Dean Vestal’s remarks amounted to “a five point diatribe about why Iowa’s judicial retention votes should not be used as a referendum on a particular court decision.”
An interesting, but unreported, sidebar: The event was paid for by the Committee for Economic Development – a Washington-based group that has hauled in nearly $1.3 million from George Soros’ Open Society Institute, according to the report my organization, the American Justice Partnership, released last week.