For most of us, the term “judicial independence” remains a remote and pretty theoretical term. An event this week attempts to bring its meaning into stark relief.

For at least the past decade, courts local and national have sought to educate the public on the value of an independent judiciary, what is now termed by them “fair courts.” Their efforts are in response to initiatives launched by others to more firmly control the courts and the outcomes that flow from them. Those initiatives—often branded attacks by the courts and their supporters—range from the possible to the unlikely. And in Arizona, 2012 will see even more dialogue on judges and those who select them.

(I’ve written on the topic a few times this year; see here and here.)

This week, an intriguing speaker weighs in on the question at the University of Arizona Law School. There, on Thursday, a former state Supreme Court Chief Justice will speak at the invitation of a student group, the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy.

Former Iowa Chief Justice Marsha Ternus

Marsha Ternus was the Iowa C.J., and in 2010 she was at the losing end of a bruising and nationally watched ballot fight. By the time the votes were counted, she and two other sitting justices had been ousted following their ruling in one high-profile case, on gay marriage.

Here is the press release from the school (also found on their Facebook page):

The Increasing Politicization Of Judicial Elections And The Impact On Judicial Independence

The American Constitution Society for Law and Policy (ACS) at the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law is holding an event on judicial independence featuring Justice Marsha Ternus, former Chief Justice of the Iowa Supreme Court. She will discuss the increasing politicization of judicial elections and the impact that has on judicial independence and the fairness and impartiality of judicial decision making.

When: Thursday, January 19, 2012, 12:15 pm – 1:15 pm

Where: Ares Auditorium, Room 164, James E. Rogers College of Law, University of Arizona

Address: 1201 E. Speedway Blvd., Tucson, AZ 85719

Justice Ternus was appointed to the Iowa Supreme Court in 1993 by Governor Terry Branstad and members of the court elected her chief justice in 2006. She was the first woman to serve as chief justice of Iowa’s highest court. Justice Ternus grew up on a farm near Vinton, Iowa and received her bachelor’s degree with honors and high distinction from the University of Iowa. She earned her law degree with honors from Drake University, Order of the Coif, where she was editor-in-chief of the Drake Law Review.

In April 2009, the Iowa Supreme Court, in Varnum v. Brien, unanimously declared the state’s same-sex marriage restriction unconstitutional, making Iowa the third state in the country to allow same-sex marriages. The three justices up for retention in 2010 were then targeted by a well-organized and well-financed campaign to unseat them and in November 2010, Iowa voters removed Justice Ternus and two other justices from office.

About ACS: ACS sponsors speakers, events and policy debates with the goal of providing a progressive viewpoint. ACS is transforming legal and policy debates in classrooms, courtrooms, legislature and the media. Through these efforts, ACS aims to ensure American legal institutions reflect the highest values of our nation and serve the needs of its people.