Iowa's Republican Governor-Elect Terry Branstad is changing his position on the right-wing push to impeach the four remaining Iowa Supreme Court justices who issued the state's landmark marriage equality ruling in 2009.
Last week, Branstad had no comment on the impeachment drive started by three newly-elected legislators. And today: Impeachment is not the "appropriate remedy", Branstad tells the Cedar Rapids Gazette.
In a wide-ranging interview, Branstad said he disagreed with the court’s marriage ruling but he also disagrees with a band of House Republicans who have indicated they are drafting articles of impeachment against Justices Brent Appel, Mark Cady, Daryl Hecht and David Wiggins. Three other members of court – Chief Justice Marsha Ternus and Justices David Baker and Michael Streit — ended their terms Dec. 31 after they lost their retention votes in the Nov. 2 general election.
The incoming governor said he believes the unanimous court “over-reached” when the justices struck down as unconstitutional the Defense of Marriage Act he signed in 1998 that defined marriage in Iowa as only between one man and one woman. The 7-0 ruling in April 2009 had the effect of legalizing civil marriages between couples of the same gender – a change that critics argue was legislating from the bench and over-stepping the justices’ constitutional authority that constituted malfeasance in executing their duties.
"I think if you look and read the Constitution, which I have, I think it’s pretty obvious. The Constitution says what the grounds for impeachment are. My reading is it’s not there," he said. "There’s a difference between malfeasance and over-reaching, I think. I really think that if people look at the Constitution, I think the remedy is that when they come up for retention that people have a chance to vote them out. I think that’s the appropriate remedy. I don’t think that impeachment is the appropriate remedy."
As of this month, Republicans will occupy the governor's office and control the House. Democrats will retain a narrow 26-24 edge in the Senate. But it will be very difficult to force a ballot measure, Radio Iowa reports. "A resolution must be passed by both the Iowa House and Senate in 2011 or 2012 and then again in 2013 or 2014 before an amendment could be placed on the General Election ballot."
Branstad's statement comes the same week that Bob Vander Plaats, the extreme former anti-gay Republican gubernatorial candidate, announced a statewide tour to build support to impeach the four remaining justices. Vander Plaats' former campaign advisor wrote a scathing op-ed in the Des Moines Register, saying Vander Plaats was "so obsessed with gay-marriage ... he would rather see the Iowa judicial system destroyed, instead of pursuing a change in the law within the channels provided."