Bench Memos

Re: In Defense of Meaningful Retention Elections

A follow-up to my previous post concerning Iowa: The Iowa State Bar Association asks the state’s lawyers and judges to rate the judges who are standing for retention. I have two points based on the most recent survey results:

1. The New York Times and the Iowa State Bar appear to disagree on the premise that the purpose of the retention election is merely to police incompetence or corruption. In this year’s report, the Iowa State Bar asks, “why Does Iowa have a retention election?” and responds by stating that it “gives voters the final say about who serves as a judge” and “is the most effective way to ensure fair and impartial courts.” The document also states that “it is inappropriate for a judge to consider his or her personal views, political pressure or public opinion when deciding cases.”  

2. Four of Iowa’s supreme-court justices stand for retention this year: Justice Wiggins and the three justices who replaced three who were ousted in 2010. In the survey, Justice Wiggins consistently underperforms the other three justices. While the new justices each received ratings above 90 percent, Justice Wiggins received a lousy 63 percent. In fact, only one other judge standing for retention in all of Iowa this year scored lower, at 61 percent. Moreover, on “temperament and demeanor,” the other three justices received close to a perfect 5, while Justice Wiggins received a 3.09. Finally, on “decides cases on basis of applicable law and fact, not affected by outside influence,” Justice Wiggins received a 3.53, while the other three justices scored just above 4.5. 

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