Campaigns For and Against Barrett Nomination Show Why Politics and the Courts Don’t Mix

October 31, 2020

And Why Your Vote in Iowa’s Retention Elections Matters

In the classroom, they call these teachable moments. That’s exactly what we are witnessing here in Iowa as the week ends after the bitter partisan rancor over the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court and we round the corner on election day this Tuesday.

Both money and political gamesmanship were on full display by both sides during the Barrett nomination fight. The Judicial Crisis Network, a special interest group dedicated to seating conservative judges, spent $9.2 million on national television spots, digital ads, direct mail, and text messages supporting Barrett (as of Oct. 26.)

Money always taints the selection of judges because it implies to the public that judgeships are for sale — which undermines the principle of fair and impartial courts. As is often the case, we also don’t know who is funding special interest groups like the Judicial Crisis Network because they are not required to disclose their donors. That’s called dark money for a good reason.

Meanwhile Demand Justice and Cut the Strings CO, two liberal groups opposing Barrett’s nomination, launched seven-figure ad buys across several battleground states to reprimand Republican Senators for filling the open Supreme Court seat before the election. The partisan fireworks came to a crescendo on Monday night when not one Democratic senator voted in favor of Barrett, the first time in 151 years that a justice was confirmed to the nation’s highest court “without the support of a single member of the minority party,” according to the New York Times.

Some have suggested that Iowa change its system for selecting judges, making it more like the federal system. We hope watching the train wreck we just witnessed this week, along with the recent nomination fights over Justice Brett Kavanaugh and President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland, will convince Iowans otherwise.

Just as compelling is what you haven’t seen here in Iowa this election year: Television ads and special interest-funded campaigns leveled against Iowa judges. Instead, our merit-based system for nominating judges to the Iowa Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, and District courts discourages outside money and political strong-arming (most of the time). Retention votes also give Iowa voters the final word on judicial integrity and performance rather than election-style popularity contests.

So if you didn’t like what you saw in D.C. this week, we have two strong recommendations:

  1. Vote, if you haven’t voted already, and be sure to flip over your ballot and vote on statewide and local retention of Iowa judges. You can find lawyer evaluations of the judges on the ballot this year here; and,
  2. Continue your support of Justice Not Politics and its mission as Iowa’s voice against the judicial horror stories we see in other states and in our nation’s capital. The potential damage to our judicial system and to everyone’s right to a fair and impartial court is downright scary, which is a concern quite appropriate for this Halloween 2020.

The Justice Not Politics Team