The Politicization of Judicial Elections and Its Effect on Judicial Independence and LGBT Rights

Fri, 10/21/2011 - 2:30pm - 5:30pm
1801 Euclid Ave, Cleveland, Ohio 44115 (Moot Court Room) [map]

The Hon. Marsha K. Ternus, former Chief Justice, Iowa Supreme Court

Camilla Taylor, Lambda Law attorney who successfully litigated Varnum through the Iowa courts

Daniel Tokaji, Ohio State Law Professor and expert on election law and issues

C|MLAW Professor Susan Becker,  introductory remarks 

C|M|LAW Professor Matthew Green,  panel moderator

The Hon. Marsha Ternus

Camilla Taylor

Daniel Tokaji


In the November 2010 elections, three sitting Iowa Supreme Court justices were ousted as a result of the court’s unanimous ruling in Varnum v. Brien. The Varnum decision struck down, on equal protection grounds, a state statute limiting marriage rights to a union between a man and a woman.  The conference seeks to examine the effect the ouster may have on judicial independence as well as its effect on future efforts to challenge, in state courts, laws that prohibit marriage for same-sex couples and to advance other civil rights for LGBT persons through state court litigation. More specifically, the conference will address the importance of an independent judiciary and whether that independence might be undermined by judicial elections that are highly politicized due to one or more socially contentious issues the court recently has,or will in the near future, resolve.

Registration for this event is not required but is greatly appreciated for planning purposes. Please register via this link:

The Panel:

The Hon. Marsha K. Ternus
Marsha Ternus was appointed to the Iowa Supreme Court in 1993, and was selected chief justice by members of the court in 2006. Her term on the court expired in 2010. As Chief Justice, Ternus made the improvement of court oversight of child welfare cases a priority for the Iowa Judicial Branch, leading a collaborative effort between the judicial branch, state agencies, and private entities to reform and improve the Iowa courts processing of child welfare cases to minimize the time children spend in foster care. During her time on the court, Ternus encouraged court efforts to improve access to justice, working in collaboration with Iowa Legal Aid to provide more pro bono services to people who could not afford an attorney. In addition, she organized a task force to study civil justice reform. In 2009, U. S. Supreme Court Justice John Roberts appointed Chief Justice Ternus to the Judicial Conference Committee on Federal-State Jurisdiction, where she was one of only four state supreme court justices serving on the committee.

Ms. Ternus is currently practicing law in Des Moines, primarily in the areas of mediation, arbitration, and appellate consulting work.

Camilla Taylor
Camilla Taylor is the Marriage Project Director (national position) in the Midwest Regional Office of Lambda Legal, the oldest and largest national legal organization committed to achieving full recognition of the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people and people with HIV.

Taylor was lead counsel in Lambda Legal's marriage equality lawsuit in Iowa, Varnum v. Brien, in which the Iowa Supreme Court, by unanimous decision, struck down Iowa’s marriage ban in April 2009, making Iowa the third state in the country to permit gay and lesbian couples to marry. Also in Iowa, Taylor obtained a favorable ruling from the state high court in 2005 in Alons v. Iowa District Court for Woodbury County, which held that seven antigay legislators, a pastor and a church had no standing to challenge a judge's decision to grant two Iowa women a dissolution of their Vermont civil union.

Daniel Tokaji
Daniel P. Tokaji has been a law professor at The Ohio State University's Moritz College of Law since 2003. Prior to arriving at Ohio State, Prof. Tokaji was an attorney with the ACLU Foundation of Southern California for eight years. His scholarship addresses questions of political equality, racial justice, and the role of the judiciary in democracy. He has litigated numerous civil rights and election law cases, including serving as lead counsel in a case that struck down an Ohio law requiring naturalized citizens to produce a certificate of naturalization if challenged at the polls (Boustani v. Blackwell). Among his other cases was a lawsuit that successfully protected the First Amendment rights of protesters at the 2000 Democratic National Convention (SEIU Local 660 v. Los Angeles). He has argued before the California Supreme Court, the United States Courts of Appeals for the Sixth and Ninth Circuit, and other state and federal courts.

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Category: Public Lectures