Retention Redux: Iowa 2012
On April 3, 2009, the Iowa Supreme Court’s seven members ruled unanimously in Varnum v. Brien that the state's statutory ban on same-sex marriage violated the equality clause of the Iowa Constitution. Nineteen months later, three of those justices — Chief Justice Marsha Ternus, Justice Michael Streit, and Justice David Baker — lost their jobs when Iowa voters denied their bids for retention. It was a remarkable victory for social conservatives and their leaders, including Iowa for Freedom (an anti-retention organization founded by Iowa businessman Bob Vander Plaats, who had recently suffered his third defeat in a Republican gubernatorial primary), the Mississippi-based American Family Association, and the New Jersey-based National Organization for Marriage, among others. It was a staggering defeat for the three ousted justices and for those who believed it was inappropriate to use the retention election as an opportunity to express disapproval of Varnum.
Things played out differently when a fourth member of the Varnum court — Justice David Wiggins — stood for retention in November 2012. Fifty-five percent of those casting ballots voted to retain Justice Wiggins, roughly the same percentage that voted to remove his three former colleagues two years earlier. What accounts for that difference in the Varnum justices’ political fortunes? I offer answers to that question here.