Last Friday, Bob Vander Plaats put an end to the speculation that he might run for governor as an independent candidate when he announced that he will instead lead a statewide anti-retention campaign against three Iowa Supreme Court Justices. The details regarding Vander Plaats’ new political organization are sparse, but he did indicate that he would be announcing further details in the weeks ahead.
There are some clues to what organization is backing Vander Plaats’ efforts. On WHO Radio last Friday, Vander Plaats announced a new website called IowaFamilyValues.com. The website is paid for by AFA Political Action based out of Tupelo, Mississippi. AFA stands for American Family Association, which was founded by Donald Wildmon, whose son, Tim, is now the president of the organization.
Following U.S. District Chief Judge Vaughn Walker’s decision to overturn California’s Proposition 8, the AFA called on Walker to be impeached for his ruling. AFA was involved in the effort to pass Proposition 8 in 2008. The group seems to be a natural fit for Vander Plaats and the anti-retention effort he wants to lead this fall.
With more people than ever frustrated with the Iowa Supreme Court following its unanimous decision in Varnum v. Brien, the probability of an anti-retention campaign being successful is likely as high as it will ever be.
Yet, this isn’t the first anti-retention effort to gain media attention. In 2004, there was an effort to oust Judge Jeffery Neary after he granted a divorce to an out-of-state lesbian couple. The movement to oust Judge Neary came up short.
Like the campaign against Judge Neary, TheIowaRepublican.com’s Battleground poll shows that ousting the three Supreme Court Justices who are up for the retention vote this fall will not be easy. When participants of the poll were asked if they would vote to retain the three justices or vote against them, 40 percent said retain, while 27 percent would vote against retaining. Thirty-one percent of those polled didn’t know how they would vote.
The Battleground polls also asked those surveyed if they would retain the three Iowa Supreme Court Justices if they knew that these judges voted to legalize gay marriage in Iowa. When the question was asked that way, 44 percent would vote to retain, while 47 percent of respondents would vote to remove the judges. Only eight percent of those surveyed were undecided.
The poll’s results are interesting for a couple of reasons. First, the results show that people’s natural disposition is to retain the judges. That means that it’s going to be necessary for Vander Plaats and other anti-retention adocates in the state to communicate with the voters about why the three Justices shouldn’t be retained.
Second, while those who want to oust the Justices are greater than those who want to retain them once educated about their involvement in bringing gay marriage to Iowa, the difference is within the poll’s 4.39 percent margin of error. More interesting is that, once the gay marriage issue was mentioned, the percentage of undecided people plummeted from 31 to 8 percent, a sign that people have strong feelings on both sides of the controversial issue.
Vander Plaats brings the anti-retention movement a well-known spokesperson who will also bring with him a group of dedicated grassroots activists. That is what will make the anti-retention effort in 2010 much different from the regional effort in 1994.
During his gubernatorial campaign, Vander Plaats made the courts the central focus of his campaign. At his press conference on Friday, Vander Plaats still stood behind his proposed executive order that would put a stay on gay marriages in the state until the people of Iowa have the opportunity to vote on a marriage amendment.
Even some of Vander Plaats’ most vocal supporters are now saying that it would be pointless to pass a marriage amendment in the wake of California’s Proposition 8 being overturned. The main reason Vander Plaats’ executive order resonated with people is because they were looking for an avenue to voice their frustration over the court’s ruling in the Varnum case.
The anti-retention movement now provides them a similar avenue, but even if successful, it will do nothing to ensure that future courts will not take similar mistakes.
The anti-retention campaign seeks to punish the Justices for their behavior and nothing else. Sure, if successful, it may deter judges in the future from being overtly political in their decisions, but as the spotlight of the Varnum decision fades, so too will the anger people have towards the Justices.
Even if Vander Plaats is successful in ousting only one of the Justices, his campaign will be viewed as a success. Yet, that victory will be hollow because Iowa will still have a Supreme Court with far too much power and influence. While ousting the Justices will make a statement, Iowa Conservatives still need to address how to restrain the Court from overstepping its authority in the future.
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