09/10/2010 04:23 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Sandra Day O'Connor At Odds With Iowa Republicans On Key Court Issues

Retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor took part in a panel discussion in Des Moines, Iowa Wednesday, and took positions that are at odds with Republican gubernatorial candidate Terry Branstad and conservative activist Bob Vander Plaats.

O'Connor told guests of the Iowa Bar Association Wednesday she admired Iowa's court system and said it should stay the way it is. Branstad has said he would look into changing the way Iowa's Supreme Court justices are chosen.

"Iowa's probably going through a stressful time right now," O'Connor said, adding Iowans shouldn't simply throw out the system.

Branstad's campaign said people want to explore other options, rather than the current merit based system in which state Supreme Court justices are nominated by an independent commission then selected by the governor.

"Gov. Branstad believes that Iowans are open to a number of different options and given the frustration that's out there, he is willing to listen to those ideas," said Tim Albrecht, Branstad campaign spokesman.

Albrecht declined to speak directly about O'Connor's statements.

Iowa For Freedom, a campaign led by former three-time Republican gubernatorial candidate, Vander Plaats, put out a press release shortly after the event "thanking" the former Supreme Court justice "for supporting Iowa For Freedom's effort."

IFF wishes to oust the three Iowa Supreme Court justices up for a retention vote on Nov. 2 because they were a part of a unanimous ruling in April 2009, in Varnum v. Brien, declaring the Defense of Marriage Act, signed into law by then-Gov. Branstad in 1999, against the state's constitution. The ruling made same-sex marriage legal in Iowa.

Chuck Laudner, IFF campaign manager, said he believed O'Connor was speaking against money spent on popular vote judicial elections, not a campaign concerning a retention vote.

"Once politics does enter that judicial process, retention is part of that process she is talking about," Laudner said. "She did say of course you can oust a judge because retention is a part this process they're trying to protect--and we agree."

Laudner said the justices have practiced "judicial activism" and voting them out is a check by the people of Iowa. He said he fears the ruling legalizing of same-sex marriage could lead to the Court deciding to take away more rights.

O'Connor demurred.

"[Justice] Souter and I both look at the Court as the one safe place where a person can have a fair and impartial hearing to resolve a legal issue and we have to keep that," O'Connor said. "We have to address the pressures being applied to that one safe place ... have to have it where judges are not subject to outright retaliation."