University of Denver

Influx of Money in Iowa Supreme Court Race Threatens Meaningful Court Decisions

Associate Director of Communications

According to the Des Moines Register, experts predict that more than $400,000 will be spent in Iowa Supreme Court Justice David Wiggins’ retention election. In 2010, supporters and opponents of three justices' retention spent $1.4 million. Iowa is not alone in seeing a significant rise in spending for state supreme court elections. From 1990 to 2000, spending in judicial elections around the country jumped from $3 million to $45 million annually.

With so much money injected into what is intended to be an apolitical process, backers of the courts worry that the judicial system will become tied to popular political opinion and that courts and judges may therefore be afraid to decide certain issues for fear of an electoral backlash driven by special interests. Malia Reddick, director of the Quality Judges Initiative at IAALS, was interviewed about this threat to the justice system:

[A] basic problem . . . [is] if judges become too leery of the political fallout to make necessary and controversial decisions, and instead decide them on procedural issues if possible. People voting in retention elections “have the right to cast their votes as they see fit,” Reddick said. “And if they want to do that based on certain issues, that’s their right. But I think you also have to think of the long-term effect of single-issue voting.”