Framing the Debate: Understanding Iowa’s 2010 Judicial Retention Election Through a Content Analysis of Letters to the Editor

42 Pages Posted: 27 Mar 2011 Last revised: 18 Jul 2012

Tyler J. Buller

Iowa Department of Justice

Date Written: March 23, 2011

Abstract

This Note explores the framing of political advocacy surrounding Iowa’s 2010 judicial-retention election through a content analysis of letters to the editor in Iowa newspapers published in the three months preceding the election. In November 2010, Iowa voters denied retention to all three Iowa Supreme Court justices on the ballot. The election took place against the backdrop of a charged debate focused on Varnum v. Brien — a recent Iowa Supreme Court decision invalidating Iowa’s statutory prohibition of same-sex marriage — and an unprecedented campaign to oust the justices on account of that decision. Because judicial-retention elections fall at the intersection of law, public policy, and politics, this study provides insight for the bench, the bar, advocates, and political and legal scholars as they seek to understand the debate over same-sex marriage and Iowa’s 2010 retention election. The data collected in this study paint a picture of the political dialogue between pro- and antiretention factions as it played out across Iowa newspapers’ opinion and editorial pages, ultimately demonstrating that pro- and anti-retention advocates framed the retention election in substantively different ways.

Keywords: same-sex marriage, gay marriage, Iowa Supreme Court, judicial retention, judicial selection

Suggested Citation

Buller, Tyler J., Framing the Debate: Understanding Iowa’s 2010 Judicial Retention Election Through a Content Analysis of Letters to the Editor (March 23, 2011). 97 Iowa L. Rev. 1745. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1793313

Tyler J. Buller (Contact Author)

Iowa Department of Justice ( email )

IA
United States

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