Lawyers, law students, and community members gathered in the evening on Thursday, October 27 at the Iowa City Public Library to commemorate the one year anniversary of the judicial retention election. This standing-room-only crowd listened to judges, business leaders, politicians, and journalists who were knowledgeable and experienced on the issue of retention elections.
Much of the discussion was prospective, looking forward to the retention election of Justice Wiggins, the member of the Iowa Supreme Court that decided the Varnum case to be on the ballot in 2012. Some members of the panel, such as State Sen. Joe Bolkcom, believed that the coming retention election will not be as contentious as the last in 2010. However, others, such as local attorney Jim Hayes, warned that those in favor of a fair and impartial judiciary must remain vigilant. Polk County Judge, Robert Hanson, author of the Varnum v. Brien decision at the trial court level, voiced that an important element to getting community members to support the judiciary is to, “bring them (community members) into the court house so they can see what judges do every day.”
The audience was urged to develop varied messages about the importance of fair and impartical courts, as not every message resonates with every segment of the community. “Our LBGT community is very diverse,” said Meredith Palmer of Lambda Legal , the primary sponsor of the event. She continued that while some may think marriage equality is the main reason to defend the judiciary’s independence, other messages will hit home differently with others. Another panelist, Mike Petro, from the Committee for Economic Development, stressed how the business community values courts that aren’t influenced by judicial elections that fueled by excessive contributions. Stability and predictability of the courts are important when a business is deciding to establish itself in a state, he said, just as having good schools.
In 2009-2010, non-candidate spending accounted for $11.5 M., or 29.8% of all money spent to elect high court judges, according to this study.