Panacea: an answer or solution for all problems and difficulties. Merit selection and retention elections were supposed to be the panacea taking political partisanship out of judicial elections while simultaneously preserving judicial independence and safeguarding accountability to the voters.
So much for cure-alls. The New York Times reported today in Voters Moving to Oust Judges Over Decisions that the out-of-sight, out-of-mind insularity enjoyed by merit selection judges for decades may be over. The big-spending, polarizing partisanship of overheated, contested judicial elections has returned.
Iowa is one of 16 merit selection and retention states. And in Iowa, a sitting supreme court judge has never lost a retention election in 50 years. But now, the group Iowa For Freedom is aggressively working to oust 3 state supreme court justices and they’ve got lots of money behind them.
The reason? It’s the unanimous decision of the Iowa Supreme Court’s decision upholding same-sex marriage. See Will gay marriage decision cost Iowa justices their jobs?
On their website, former GOP gubernatorial candidate and group spokesperson Bob Vander Plaats says, “Iowa law wisely allows for a check and balance of the Supreme Court through a retention vote by you, the citizens. In April of 2009, we all witnessed blatant judicial activism by the Iowa Supreme Court. The court legislated from the bench…they governed from the bench…and, they even attempted to amend our constitution from the bench as they declared Iowa a “Same Sex” marriage state. This is not their role. The Legislature makes the law. The Governor executes the law. And, only “we the people” can amend our constitution.”
The reemergence of organized big dollar campaigns to oust judges in previously tranquil, voter-apathetic jurisdictions is not good news to proponents of ‘good for what ails you‘ merit selection and retention elections.
Even sheep dip doesn’t cure all ailments.