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Justice praises selection system

BY MADISON BENNETT | FEBRUARY 22, 2011 7:20 AM

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CEDAR RAPIDS — Supreme Court Justice David Wiggins said the only problem with the process to retain Iowa Supreme Court justices is they’re not running against another person but the notion of an ideal judge.

“What you’re really doing is running against the perfect opponent,” he said. “You can’t really define the opponent. But that’s the way the system is, and I still think it’s the best system.”

Wiggins addressed Iowa’s merit-based selection process on Monday at the Kirkwood Hotel in Cedar Rapids, debunking the idea it is rigged.

“My personal views have nothing to do with my job,” he told a crowd of around 70 in one of the hotel’s ballrooms. “Strange to hear, but personal views have nothing to do with it.”

Judicial retention has been hotly debated since the ousting of three judges in the Nov. 2 elections. The campaign to remove the judges came after the Supreme Court ruled in favor of gay marriage and called into question the future of the appointment process.

Iowa uses a merit-based selection process to appoint justices to the state Supreme Court. Since 1962, a group of 15 people — made up of lawyers, citizens, and a high-ranking justice — recommends three candidates for every open position. The governor ultimately picks the justice.

Wiggins said the system is an integral part of Iowa being named one of the top five states for fairness and impartiality by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

But following the intense backlash against justices after the gay-marriage ruling, some argued the public should have more say in the initial selection process.

After 30 minutes of speaking, Wiggins opened the room — a mix of with paralegal students, high-school students and the politically curious — to questions.

Among the attendees was K.E. Seda, a Chicago resident visiting Iowa, who said he wanted to attend the speech to discuss gay-marriage legislation.

Seda asked Wiggins about bisexuals’ role in same-sex marriage legislation.

“I always try to come up with the most interesting questions as possible,” he said. “I’m obviously a devil’s advocate.”

Joyce Christianson, a second-year paralegal student at Kirkwood Community College said, though it was helpful to hear Wiggins address the issues, it was even more beneficial to hear questions presented by the community. Listening to the concerns of the people can be educational, she said.

Wiggins also spoke about the impartiality of judges. He said he believes people expect the judiciary system to be similar to the legislative system — representative of the people. But it’s not, he said.

“The court is very, very different,” the justice said. “And it’s one thing people often forget.”

This is not to say courts are not responsible to the people they serve, Wiggins said, but rather it is the courts’ duty to interpret and enforce the Constitution as adapted in the state of Iowa.

“It creates uniformity in the business world and in the normal world,” he said.


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