DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Several Republican state lawmakers said Friday that they will try to impeach four Iowa Supreme Court justices who joined in a unanimous 2009 ruling that legalized gay marriage in the state.
The effort, led by newly elected House member Kim Pearson of Des Moines, comes about six weeks after voters removed three other justices from the seven-member court after a campaign that focused on the gay marriage ruling. Those three justices were up for retention elections, in which voters have the option of ousting judges near the end of their terms.
Pearson said the remaining justices should be impeached because they overstepped their authority and violated the state constitution when they overturned a state law that defined marriage as being between one man and one woman. She claimed the court ruling infringed on the Legislature's role in making laws.
"Part of our duty, in supporting the constitution of the state of Iowa, is to ensure that the various branches of government function within their constitutional authority," said Pearson.
The court ruled that Iowa's marriage law violated the constitutional right of equal protection.
Pearson is joined by freshman legislators Glen Massie, of Des Moines, and Tom Shaw, of Laurens, in drafting impeachment measures.
To succeed, the measure would need to pass with a simple majority in the House and a two-thirds majority in the Senate. Republicans hold a 20-seat majority in the House, but Democrats narrowly control the Senate, 26 seats to 24 seats.
Senate Majority Leader Michael Gronstal, of Council Bluffs, questioned the impeachment effort, noting the constitution allows removal of justices only when they are found to have committed serious violations.
"If the Republicans actually think there are misdemeanors or malfeasance in office, then let them bring that forward," said Gronstal.
House Speaker-elect Kraig Paulsen of Hiawatha, said he wouldn't block the impeachment effort but would rather Republicans focus on referring the gay marriage issue to voters. That proposed constitutional amendment would take the approval of Legislatures seated in consecutive elections before it would go to voters.
Paulsen said that when voters tossed out the three justices in November, they were making clear their desire to vote on the matter.
"I think one of the messages in it was they want the opportunity to vote on the definition of marriage," said Paulsen.
The four justices still on the court are Brent Appel, Mark Cady, Darly Hecht and David Wiggins. Appel, Cady and Hecht are up for retention votes in 2016 and Wiggins will go on the ballot in 2012.
Court spokesman Steve Davis declined to comment on the matter.
Democratic Gov. Chet Culver cautioned against efforts to remove judges, either through impeachment or at the ballot box, because of their rulings on specific issues.
"I believe it's a pretty slippery slope if we start making these decisions based on one decision at a time," Culver said during a taping of an Iowa Public Television public affairs program.
Culver acknowledged the intense public interest in the gay marriage ruling and said it likely played a role in his November defeat to Republican Terry Branstad.
"I think it's fair to say that a lot of people came out to vote because of the judicial retention election and I was on the other side," Culver said. "The fact that we had a record turnout and the fact the issue was on the ballot certainly had an impact."
A Judicial Nominating Commission is taking applications for the three Iowa Supreme Court openings and will make recommendations to Branstad, who will be inaugurated as governor Jan. 14. Branstad will then appoint justices to the court.
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