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Does Branstad deserve commendation for his anti-impeachment stance?

BY DI EDITORIAL STAFF | JANUARY 18, 2011 7:10 AM

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YES

Even voters who did not pull the lever for Terry Branstad should give credit where credit is due. Gov. Branstad should be commended for publicly opposing their impeachment of the remaining Iowa Supreme Court justices because of opposition to the Varnum v. Brien decision. The governor said he disagrees with the same-sex marriage ruling, but he doesn’t believe that an unpopular decision is Constitutional grounds for impeaching the justices.

That he is actively taking a role in the impeachment debate is a refreshing departure from his lack of a stance on the retention elections. During the campaign against the retention of the three justices, Branstad strictly adhered to a “no comment” policy — likely because of a desire to avoid alienating social conservatives prior to the gubernatorial election.

Branstad may be speaking out against impeachment solely for political purposes. He may be trying to court moderate voters who were uncomfortable with the heated anti-retention campaign.

However, with his re-election still four years in the future, fishing for votes seems odd. He should receive the benefit of the doubt for failing to politically skew his interpretation of Iowa’s Constitution.

Instead, perhaps he is recognizing the importance of an independent judiciary. Impeaching the justices would be a serious abuse of the Iowa Legislature’s constitutional power. The process of impeachment is meant for justices who are incompetent or corrupt, not justices who make controversial decisions.

The goal of appointing Supreme Court Justices is to keep them apolitical. It would be naïve to suggest that there are not justices whose decisions follow a noticeable ideology, but turning the Supreme Court into slaves of public opinion would defeat the purpose of the institution. Branstad should be commended for recognizing this.

— Will Mattessich

NO

While they may be judicious, Terry Branstad’s anti-impeachment statements should not be interpreted as wholehearted commitment to the separation of powers. A basic understanding of the Constitution ought to be a requirement to hold political office, not a special attribute worthy of praise. Not only this, but Gov. Branstad’s remarks were tempered with a supportive reference to judicial-recall elections; while he may grasp the basics of Constitutionality, he seems to support the ousting of justices over politicized issues, a perspective that threatens independence and impartiality.

At the fundamental level, impeachment of the justices for their ruling in Varnum v. Brien would constitute a gross misuse of constitutionally granted powers, forcing the Supreme Court to conform to the will of the Legislature. Regardless of whether one supports same-sex marriage, the Constitution is clear that a politically contentious ruling is not grounds for impeachment.

That refers to the letter of the Constitution. Arguments against politicized recall votes must invoke the document’s spirit, but it is contrary to the public interest to require justices to conform to set political criteria (provided, of course, that they exhibit sufficient interpretive rigor). Branstad’s wink and nod to the conservative promise to recall all seven justices endorses the further infusion of politics into the court system; if he were truly invested in an independent judiciary, he should encourage the anti-gay crowd to support a Constitutional amendment.

Congratulating Branstad on knowing the letter of the Constitution sets the bar for political competence ridiculously low. It’s true that Bob Vander Plaats and his ilk regularly engage in underhanded political behavior, but when it comes to elected officials, I expect more. “Meets expectations” is not high praise.

— Shay O’Reilly


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