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October 1st, 2010

The ONE Iowa Coalition

By Nathan Tucker

On Monday, former Lt. Governors Joy Corning and Sally Pederson announced the creation of Justice Not Politics, a “non-partisan” coalition aimed to urge Iowans not to exercise their right to vote judges off the bench.  The coalition, however, is about as “non-partisan” as the judges it seeks to defend.

According to Corning, “This is just the launch…not the final draft.  There is much work to be done to fight extremists who want to insert their narrow, special interest into the one branch of government that should be free from politics.”

Both Corning and Pederson made it clear during a press conference on Monday that they are taking aim at Iowa for Freedom, a group, led by former Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Vander Plaats, that is encouraging the ouster of the three Iowa Supreme Court justices who voted to legalize same-sex marriage.

In particular, they took issue with one of Iowa for Freedom’s primary backers—the American Family Association (AFA).  “They don’t have the interests of Iowans at heart.  They have their own agenda,” said Pederson.  “The American Family Association is really an extremely outrageous right-wing group.”

This harsh denunciation would perhaps carry more weight if it did not come from a coalition that simply appears to be a front for One Iowa who, according to its website, is “the state’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) advocacy organization, committed to full equality for LGBT individuals, including the freedom to marry.”

A comparison of the membership organizations for both groups reveals striking similarities.  For instance, both Corning and Pederson also happen to be co-chairs for One Iowa.  Two of the community leaders listed on Justice Not Politics’ website also appear on One Iowa’s website:  the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Burlington, Iowa, and the Plymouth Congregational Church of Des Moines.

In addition, nine of the thirty-four groups listed on Justice Not Politics’ website also support One Iowa’s website:

  • ACLU of Iowa
  • Interfaith Alliance of Iowa
  • Iowa Civil Rights Commission
  • Iowa Planned Parenthood Affiliate League
  • League of Women Voters of Iowa
  • Methodist Federation for Social Action, Iowa Chapter
  • Metropolitan Community Church of the Quad Cities, Davenport
  • Trinity United Methodist Church, Des Moines

Adding to its hypocrisy, Justice Not Politics attacked Iowa for Freedom over its financing while several of its member organizations are backed by liberal financier George Soros.  According to Pederson, “We have done a little bit of research and found that the AFA…is really the sole contributor [to Iowa for Freedom].  There is no Iowa for Freedom organization that you can right a check to.  It is a project of the American Family Association of Tupelo, Miss.”

Of course, Justice Not Politics isn’t going to open up its books anytime soon for public scrutiny.  But recent research has revealed that three of the coalition’s groups have received money from George Soros’ Open Society Institute and its affiliated Justice at Stake campaign, a nationwide effort to replace judicial elections with “merit-based” nominating commissions based on the Missouri Plan.

For instance, the Interfaith Alliance received $50,000 between 2004 and 2005, and the League of Women Voters Education Fund received $1.723 million earmarked for protecting a “fair and impartial judiciary.”  Iowa-based American Judicature Society, a proponent of “merit-based” judicial selection, received $1.0938 million between 2000 and 2008.

Interestingly enough, the Director of Research for the American Judicature Society recently admitted that:

This review of social scientific research on merit selection systems does not lend much credence to proponents’ claims that merit selection insulates judicial selection from political forces, makes judges accountable to the public, and identifies judges who are substantially different from judges chosen through other systems…

Finally, there are no significant, systematic differences between merit-selected judges and other judges.  Some evidence suggests that merit plans may place fewer racial and religious minorities on the bench.  The finding that merit plans may prevent the selection of bad judges is noteworthy, but this appears to be an isolated event.

Despite the lack of evidence that the Missouri Plan is really better than other methods, the report concluded that merit selection is preferable because its “impact upon the public’s trust and confidence in the courts.”  In other words, they allegedly “foster the appearance of an independent and impartial judiciary.”

In reality, however, they are simply whitewashed sepulchers with a mixture of politics and money in the selection of judges that is almost as bad as it is in the makeup of Justice Not Politics.  While the three justices need to be voted off the Supreme Court in November, the larger issue remains that the entire selection process in Iowa needs to be changed.

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About the Author

Nathan W. Tucker
Nathan W. Tucker is a Davenport attorney and author of We The People: The Only Cure to Judicial Activism. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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