If you’re not familiar with Iowa Judicial Watch.org and have yet to make it a part of your regular online reading, I would suggest you do so. Nathan Tucker and the folks over there are doing some decent work in an effort to reform Iowa’s out of control judicial branch. This morning I received the following email from Tucker in response to three new appointments Co-Governor Terry Branstad made to the Iowa State Supreme Court on Wednesday.
On Wednesday, Governor Branstad appointed Iowa Court of Appeals Judge Ed Mansfield, trial judge Bruce Zager, and Davenport attorney Thomas Waterman to the Iowa Supreme Court. Showing little regard for his past promises to Iowans, Branstad has made no effort to assure the public that his appointees will exercise judicial restraint.
Branstad had previously stated that he will only appoint candidates who respected the voters’ rejection of Varnum v. Brien. Branstad had also recently pledged that: “I feel an important obligation and responsibility as the chief executive of the state and the person who does make the appointments, to try and choose the very best people – people who I think share the philosophy of judicial restraint that I think most Iowans believe the courts should exercise.”
While he hesitated at making his interviews of the candidates publicly available, Branstad had indicated that he would consider posting non-confidential portions of the interviews online. While certainly less than what the State Judicial Nominating Commission provided, it would have given Iowans the ability to assess the answers given by each of the nine nominees.
Instead, in making his appointments, Branstad simply stated: “It is the role of the judiciary in the state of Iowa to say what the law is, as applied to cases before the courts, rather than saying what the law should be. The separation of powers is central to our Iowa Constitution.”
Branstad, however, made no effort to assure Iowans that his appointees agree with his judicial philosophy. To the contrary, each of his appointees have made troubling statements in their application material and/or interviews before the Commission, statements that the Governor has failed to indicate are not reflective of his appointees’ judicial philosophy.
For instance, perhaps echoing President Obama’s call for judicial empathy, Judge Mansfield wrote in his application material: “Appellate judges should have enough real-world experience to understand the effects of their decisions on people’s lives. There is more to justice than legal elegance…I would be honored to receive the opportunity to apply my judicial and other experience as a Justice of our Supreme Court.”
Joining the chorus, Judge Zager wrote in his application that: “I consider myself a progressive thinker…I also have a deep appreciation of the real-world implications of an appellate decision…Most importantly, I also realize that both as a trial judge and as an appellate judge, we are dealing with people’s lives.”
In his commission interview, Zager agreed that empathy is a good quality in an appellate judge. He continued: “A lot of it is a gut reaction…I have a good feel for people…It’s all about life experiences.”
For his part, Waterman wrote in his application that the law cannot remain static, failing to explain who determines how the law should change. During his commission interview, Waterman voiced displeasure at the outcome of the retention vote, calling it a shock to the judicial branch.
Given the highly liberal makeup of the Commission, it may well be that none of the nine nominees could have assured the Governor that they would exercise any sort of judicial restraint on the bench. But if that were the case, Branstad should have used this opportunity to educate the people on the need to change the process.
Instead, with a wink and a nod, the Governor apparently wants us to believe that he has found the judicial philosophy of each of his appointees acceptable. Rather than claiming that the Commission tied his hands and that his picks are the best of the worst, Branstad now, for better or for worse, owns these three new justices.
Branstad has failed to exercise any type of leadership, much less conviction, on this issue, leaving the impression that his prior promises to Iowans were simply an attempt to pander to conservatives. Conservatives don’t want campaign promises, they want action, and the Governor has failed to deliver.
Everything Tucker says here is correct, but if you were paying attention during the last primary election in the Republican Party when some of us tried to warn you this is likely to be the type of “leadership” you’d get from a fifth Terry Branstad term, it should come as no surprise. The man has a 16-year record of capitulating to judicial oligarchy, took no stand on the judicial retention election during the 201o gubernatorial contest, appointed the man who wrote Varnum v. Brien to the State Supreme Court, began gay adoptions in the state which was the first tangible policy advancement of the homosexual agenda in Iowa, said on the campaign trail that opinions of courts and not laws made by duly-elected legislatures are “the law of the land,” and so far as governor has literally taken no action to aid the will of the people expressed in last fall’s judicial retention election on this issue.
When it comes to the issue of the rule of law and the interpretation/application of the Constitution, which in my opinion is the most defining issue of this era, there is functionally no difference between Branstad and his Democrat predecessor, which is what some of us tried to tell you during the 2010 primary campaign. The only difference between these liberal, ungodly, and unconstitutional judges and the ones Culver would’ve appointed to replace the three fired former State Supreme Court Justices is they’re registered Republicans. I trust the wicked and unconstitutional rulings they make from here on out won’t be quite as offensive to your senses, since they’re coming from three more Republicans instead of three more Democrats.
The responsibility to hold Branstad accountable for his clear dereliction of duty to his Oath of Office so far in his administration lies with those who in the last primary cycle worked so hard to help him get re-elected and said the alternatives that were being offered by his primary challenger were unrealistic, unconstitutional, or would create a constitutional crisis. From where I’m sitting, we already have a constitutional crisis created by the judicial oligarchy Branstad has spent his entire political career up to this point enabling, and Branstad’s actions (which speak louder than words) so far in his fifth term are an unrealistic and unconstitutional means by which to reform it.
During that primary cycle, these people failed to introduce any alternatives to what Bob Vander Plaats’ was saying other than a constitutional convention and an amendment to the State Constitution, which takes a minimum of four years to ratify and the recent situation in California proves they’re not the ultimate cure to this disease any longer. Now that their guy is sitting in Terrace Hill and fiddling while Rome burns on this issue, I anxiously await to see how they will hold Branstad accountable for this gutless leadership, and what remedies they will pressure him to pursue to clean up his own mess. If you’re looking for a good place to start, I would recommend Tucker’s email.
In the meantime, let this again be a reminder for those that want our country back that primaries matter, and primaries aren’t about fundraising contests or personalities or platitudes, or using your connections and platforms to attain your next job — they’re the most immediate means by which to advance righteousness in the civic arena and to use them for anything less makes things worse not better.