State Supreme Court Justices Win Retention

Nov 9, 2016

Over a million people voted in the judicial retention elections of three Iowa Supreme Court justices. Chief Justice Mark Cady, Justice Brent Appel and Justice Daryl Hecht were each retained with more than 64 percent of the vote.

Though almost half of registered Iowa voters participated in the election, the number who cast their ballots for or against retention of the justices was nearly half-a-million fewer than the number of Iowans who voted in the presidential race. 

Every eight years, Iowa voters are asked whether or not a supreme court justice should remain on the bench.  A criticism of retention elections is that voters don’t have enough information to make informed choices, since retention elections are designed for voters to evaluate candidates on the merit of their work.

Guy Cook chairs the Fair and Impartial Court Committee at the Iowa State Bar Association, which is tasked with informing Iowans of judicial candidates. He says the retention system insulates the judiciary from politics, while holding jurists accountable, and therefore he's not worried about the lower turnout for retention elections.

"I think it’s a reflection of the common sense of Iowans who, if they’re unsure. They’d rather simply avoid casting a vote, rather than to wrongly cast a 'no vote,'" says Cook.

Six years ago, three other justices were booted from the state supreme court in retaliation for a ruling that legalized same-sex marriage. But four years ago Justice David Wiggins, who also voted in the unanimous Varnum ruling, won retention. 

"Hopefully with this result we can close the door on attempts to manipulate the retention vote process...which is not designed to vote against a particular running by the court," says Cook. "It's designed with a focus on the professional competence of the justices and judges."

In addition to supreme court justices, voters also elected to retain every single of the 60 Iowa appellate and district court judge on the ballot in 2016. 

To inform voters the state bar surveyed Iowa attorneys about their opinions of the judicial retention candidates, which it made available online. This year's survey recommend retention for every candidate. 

The bar also created a website to educate voters about Iowa's judicial retention and merit selection system.