Iowa GOP Divided Over Push to Impeach Judges in Same-Sex Marriage Case

Iowa Republicans are at odds over a new campaign to oust the four remaining state Supreme Court justices who two years ago decided in favor of same-sex marriage.

State voters kicked three of the seven justices who ruled on that case out of office in November, when they came up for retention votes. Most of the remaining four won't face a verdict from voters until the end of 2016 -- but some Iowa conservatives do not want to wait that long.

Looking for early retribution, five state House Republicans last week introduced four separate resolutions, each calling for the impeachment of one of the remaining judges. Republican leaders in the Legislature have dismissed the move, saying impeachment is not the proper recourse and predicting the effort will fail. But the authors are not giving up.

Republican state Rep. Kim Pearson, one of the sponsors, told the lawmakers are examining "all of our options" on how to move forward. Though the Republican House speaker seemed to shoot down the impeachment resolutions by suggesting they would languish in committee, Pearson said there are "mechanisms" that could be used to bring the proposals to the floor, and defended the legislative push.

"The idea is to uphold the integrity of the Constitution and this is our opportunity to do that," she said. "They overstepped their bounds by legislating from the bench."

The resolutions accuse the sitting judges of "malfeasance in office." They claim the judges "improperly assumed" the role of legislators, and "knowingly and intentionally usurped the proper function" of the Legislature. The resolutions claim their ruling created a "constitutional crisis" in Iowa by allowing different interpretations of the definition of marriage.

But Republican House Speaker Kraig Paulsen suggested the Legislature's time would be better spent on other matters.

"While I agree with much of the reasoning behind the impeachment resolutions, I disagree with this remedy. I do not expect it to be debated on the floor of the House and if it is, I will vote no," Paulsen said in a statement. "House Republicans remain focused on reducing government spending and lowering taxes for Iowa families and small businesses."

Paulsen noted that the resolutions were sent to the House Judiciary Committee, which is not scheduled to meet for the rest of the year.

The Republican chairman of that committee, Rep. Rich Anderson, also told The Des Moines Register he doesn't expect the resolutions to advance, saying the accusations don't meet the "legal standard" for impeachment.

Under Iowa law, impeachment proceedings must be based on an accusation of "a misdemeanor or malfeasance in office." Though the resolutions accuse the judges of malfeasance, Anderson said merely "rendering an opinion" in a court case does not count as misconduct.

The Iowa Supreme Court issued a written statement calling the impeachment push "not appropriate."

"Deciding a question in a lawsuit about whether a law violates a provision of the constitution is a fundamental role of courts in our system of government," the statement said. "Both state and federal courts have exercised this responsibility in countless cases, many of them controversial, for over 200 years."

Supporting the incumbents, Iowa group Justice Not Politics ridiculed the impeachment push as the product of a "small but loud minority." The organization called the resolutions a "sad attempt to misuse the impeachment process for political gain."

The targeted judges are Brent Appel, Mark Cady, Daryl Hecht and David Wiggins. Wiggins' term expires at the end of 2012; the rest would be in office at least through the end of 2016 barring intervention from the Legislature.

If the House were to vote in favor of impeachment, the judges would be suspended from performing their official duties and brought up for trial in the Senate. If any were to be found guilty, they would be removed from office and disqualified from holding any other Iowa state position.

Pearson acknowledged that such a move would be unprecedented. But so was Iowa voters' decision to remove three justices from office in November, she noted. That vote was in retaliation for the 2009 court decision that invalidated a same-sex marriage ban.

"I don't know what the outcome will be," Pearson said.