Chief delivers defense of courts

Chief Justice Mark Cady is scheduled to deliver the annual “Condition of the Judiciary” address to state legislators at 10 o’clock this morning.  Yesterday, Cady and the other three justices who remain on the Iowa Supreme Court received a lengthy ovation when they entered the House chamber to listen to Governor Culver’s “Condition of the State” message.  What follows is a live blog of today’s “main event” at the statehouse.

At 9:55 a.m., the three justices, members of the Court of Appeals and other judges entered the chamber, to a similar but not as lengthy reception as on Tuesday.  Some Republicans stood but did not applaud for the duration of the ovation.

Two former lieutenant governors — Republican Joy Corning and Democrat Sally Pederson — are here for the speech.  Both were part of a group which supported retention of the three justices who were not retained in last fall’s election.  (Senate President Jack Kibbie, a Democrat, mispronounced Pederson’s name.)

At 9:59 a.m., Governor Culver entered the room, to some whistles, hoots and general applause.  At 10 o’clock, Cady entered the room.  (The sergeant at arms referred to him as Chester J. Cady, and mispronounced Cady’s last name, but it’s Mark S. Cady who is entering now.  In case you’re wondering, Cady is pronounced KAY-dee.)

At 10:02 a.m., Cady was introduced and he began speaking.  He went off script at the very beginning, thanking folks for the applause. “It is received in much the same manner as it is given,” Cady said.

Cady began his speech with a discussion of the court’s budget.  The crowd sat silently, listening, never interrupting with applause. On page six of the 15-page speech — at about 10:20 — he began addressing the controversy surrounding the state’s highest court, controversy sparked by its 2009 ruling on gay marriage.  “I feel compelled to address this challenge with you this morning because it threatens to undermine the checks and balanced that protect the constitutional rights of all Iowans.”

At 10:22, after Cady mentioned “equality for all” in reference to celebrated Iowa Supreme Court cases of the past, some in the crowd stood to applaud — the first appplause interruption of Cady’s speech so far.  Democratic legislators stood to applaud.  Republican legislators sat silently.

“I do not know how this debate will end,but I do know our constitution will continue to show us the way,” Cady said next.  “…I want to address certain misunderstandings about the role of the court.”

Cady talked about the “merit selection” system of selecting judges for the state’s court system, saying it “must be maintained.”  He said the constitution requires the 15 members of the Judicial Nominating Commission be chosen “without regard to political affiliation” and he addressed complaints the commission is tilted in favor of Democrats.  He noted Democrats in 1986 complained about “apparent Republican domination” of the commission.  “Our process has worked so well for so long,” Cady said, to applause from about half the folks in the House chamber.

The third burst of applause came after Cady lauded what he called  “our fair and impartial courts” which he described as “a model of good government.”

Cady called for more “transparency” in the process of selecting judges. 

Next, Cady directly confronted critics.  “In our government, courts are legal institutions, not political institutions,” he began.  “…Public opinion shifts.  The will of the people, followed by the courts, is the will expressed by our law, as constrained by the written principles of the constitution.”  He got applause for this statement from some.  A few Republicans who remained seated applauded.

“Unlike our political institutions, courts serve the law.  They serve the law, not the interests of constituents, not the demands of special interest groups and not the electorate’s reaction to a specific court decision,” Cady said.  This got applause, an ovation from some in the room, and some whistles and cheers from the gallery where the public is seated. (Cady added that last phrase — “not the electorate’s reaction to a specific court decision” to the prepared text released at 10:30 a.m.)

Next up, Cady’s defense of “judicial review” which he described as “well documented.”  Cady drew applause from supporters in the crowd when he said the words of the constitution constrain all laws that follow.

He talked about the “peculiar province” of the courts, saying it had been settled in 1803 — Marbury v Madison.  Cady said in 1849, the Iowa Supreme Court issued its first decision that protected the constitutional rights of an Iowan by invalidating a law passed by the legislature. “This is the very duty this court exercised in the Varnum decision,” Cady said, to more applause.

The court has declared acts of the legislature unconstitutional just over 150 times, according to Cady, who added those cases haven’t received the attention the Varnum decision did.  Cady also cited the recent Citizens United case before the U.S. Supreme Court, which saw the court — via judicial review — invalidate a federal law.

“I hope my remarks this morning will lead to a more accurate and complete understanding of the court’s proper constitutional role,” Cady said. 

He next addressed critics who said the court should have suspended its ruling on Varnum to give the legislature time to react, draft a new law, set up a statewide vote on a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.  Cady said the court hasn’t done that since 1883. “As we said inVarnum, our constitution speaks with principle, and so do we,” Cady said.  He drew out the last phrase of that sentence and his supporters/like-minded people in the crowd stood to applaud.

Cady is now winding down, speaking in generalities rather than specifics about the courts, although he just threw out an oblique reference to “circumstances of the past few months” while discussing the efforts toward “transparency” in the court’s work.

Cady announced the court will hold some oral arguments in communities around the state.  “This will allow interested citizens to watch,” Cady said, adding it could be a “teaching tool” for students.  He got applause for this. “We will also consider other ways to open our work to the public….In the end, we need to get to know each other better.”

Cady ended with a verbal cadence punctuated with the words: let us go forward. 

“Let us go forward…with the courage of the convictions of our constitution…and let us, too, go forward with an understanding that rhetoric has meaning and rhetoric must be responsible,” he said, to applause.

Cady’s speech concluded at 10:53 a.m.

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About O.Kay Henderson

O. Kay Henderson is the news director of Radio Iowa.


  1. Vanderplaats wants to enact a psuedo-Sharia Theocracy and believes he knows better than God the purpose of His creation. The arrogance and hatred of that man will be his undoing.


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