By Mike Glover, Associated Press Writer
Des Moines, Iowa (AP) -- Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty said Thursday he wasn't concerned by a campaign to oust three Iowa Supreme Court justices over a decision that legalized gay marriage in the state.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Pawlenty said he would need to study the justices' record before deciding whether to join the effort, but that voters have the right to remove judges if they disagree with their rulings.
"The notion that judges stand for election is embedded in the Iowa Constitution. It's embedded in the Minnesota Constitution," Pawlenty said. "It's the right and privilege of the citizens of this state and my state to weigh in on whether they like or don't like the job that a judge is doing and to agree or disagree with him."
Pawlenty spoke during his fourth trip to Iowa since announcing he wouldn't seek a third term as Minnesota's governor. He's widely viewed as a likely candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012, in part due to his frequent visits to Iowa, which begins the election process with its precinct caucuses.
His stops Thursday included an event with Terry Branstad, the Republican candidate for governor, and a visit to the opening day of the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines.
Asked about a campaign organized by Sioux City business consultant Bob Vander Plaats - who failed in his bid for the GOP gubernatorial nomination - to remove the justices, Pawlenty stressed that he supports limiting marriage to one man and one woman.
"I think the law should support that, and to the extent you have judges inserting their personal views to change that, I don't like it," Pawlenty said.
Vander Plaats and others have promised to organize an effective campaign to remove Chief Justice Marsha Ternus and Justices David Baker and Michael Streit when they come up for a retention vote in the November general election. The three joined a unanimous decision in 2009 that found an Iowa law banning same-sex marriage violated the state constitution.
Under Iowa's system, a non-partisan panel selects potential judges, who are appointed by the governor. Voters can choose to remove them near the end of their terms, but since the system was instituted in 1962, state Supreme Court judges have never been removed.
Gay-rights activists and some former state Supreme Court justices have said the campaign to remove the justices, and a call to make Iowa's system more like the process for appointing U.S. Supreme Court judges, would inject partisanship into the judiciary.
"It's a democracy, that's why we have elections," said Pawlenty.
Pawlenty declined to say whether he would join the effort to oust the justices.
"I would want to look at their records as a whole, but the extent that they have opined or decided they are not going to support traditional marriage, that's not something I would agree with," he said.
Pawlenty said courts and legislatures should support a traditional definition of marriage, but he noted that he wouldn't necessarily reject a judge who favored gay marriage rights.
"I've appointed a lot of judges over the years," he said. "I don't have a single litmus test."
Democratic Gov. Chet Culver has opposed the effort to removed the justices, while Branstad said he won't take a position on the matter and will leave it to voters. The issue has left Branstad in a delicate position because during his previous 16-year tenure as governor, he appointed Ternus to the court.
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)