Iowa's 2010 Judicial Election: Appropriate Accountability or Rampant Passion?
Roy A. Schotland
Georgetown University Law Center
June 1, 2011
Court Review, Vol. 46, No. 1, pp. 118-128, 2011
Georgetown Public Law Research Paper No. 11-100
Although 89% of state judges (appellate and general-jurisdiction trial judges) face some type of election, judicial elections are rarely thought of even by academics interested in elections. Iowa’s 2010 election, in which three Justices were defeated, is one of the most significant judicial elections ever. The Justices lost their seats because they participated in a unanimous 2009 decision upholding gay marriage. That decision stirred intense opposition among “social conservatives”, in Iowa a substantial proportion of the population and actively led by more than 100 ministers.
That active opposition was one of eight elements that created a perfect storm against the Justices:
Despite my deep disagreement with those who opposed the Iowa Justices, I respect their exemplary honesty. One of the most notable aspects of the Iowa event is this: the opposition disagreed with one decision that their Court had made, their disagreement was the undeniably clear basis of their opposition, and they took advantage of an opportunity to make the Justices account for what they had done. Decades of experience show that when there is organized opposition to a judge, it is rarely honest: e.g. last year, Illinois’s Justice Kilbride was opposed by pro-business interests unhappy with his voting to overturn a statute capping medical malpractice damages; but the opposition’s TV ads focused on his record in criminal cases to portray him as “soft on crime.” The article considers the impact of the Iowa election. Also, the Iowa event raises a fundamental question: when judges face any type of election, what should they be “accountable” for?
Number of Pages in PDF File: 12
Keywords: Iowa 2010, judicial elections, conservatives, gay marriage, accountability
JEL Classification: K00, K30
Date posted: June 12, 2011 ; Last revised: July 21, 2011