Iowa Supreme Court Judges Voted out after Religious Right Smear Campaign

By Boston, Rob | Church & State, December 2010 | Go to article overview
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Iowa Supreme Court Judges Voted out after Religious Right Smear Campaign


Boston, Rob, Church & State


About a week before the Nov. 2 election, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins sent an e-mail to supporters plugging a bus trip to Des Moines, Iowa.

Why was the Washington, D.C.-based FRC road-tripping in the Hawkeye State?

The message, sent under the auspices of FRC Action, laid it out: Three Iowa Supreme Court justices who had voted to strike down the state's ban on same-sex marriage in 2009 were facing retention elections. FRC and its Religious Right allies aimed to take them all out.

And they did. On Election Day, Chief Justice Marsha Ternus and Justices Michael Streit and David Baker failed to garner 50 percent support to stay on the court.

The removal of the three does not affect the same-sex marriage ruling, but it will likely have the Religious Right's intended effect: sending a message to judges in other states who face elections.

"What is so disturbing about this is that it really might cause judges in the future to be less willing to protect minorities out of fear that they might be voted out of office," Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the University of California at Irvine's School of Law told The New York Times. "Something like this really does chill other judges."

The FRC, the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) and other Religious Right groups began taking aim at the judges months ago. They poured money into the state, organized in fundamentalist churches and blitzed Iowa with a bus tour.

The purple bus, emblazoned with the words "Replace, Renew, Restore" and photos of the three targeted judges, made stops in 20 Iowa communities over four days in late October. FRC and NOM were so proud of the bus that they created a special Web site (judgebus.com) full of pictures and messages sent via Twitter. (You could even "like" the bus on Facebook.)

Some clergy jumped into the effort, heedless of the legal consequences of church-based politicking. In Sioux City, the Rev. Cary K. Gordon of Cornerstone World Outreach Church implored other preachers to attack the judges from the pulpit.

Americans United reported Cornerstone to the Internal Revenue Service. (See "Bully Pulpit," November 2010 Church & State.)

For years, Religious Right groups have fulminated against "activist judges" who issue rulings the far right dislikes. Their success in Iowa will undoubtedly spur them to move on to other states and threaten more judges.

The effect could be profound. Although federal judges are appointed by the president (with review by the Senate), many state judges are elected.

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Iowa Supreme Court Judges Voted out after Religious Right Smear Campaign
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