Bus tour supporting retention of gay marriage decision judge makes stop in Johnson County today


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Three years later, the debate over the Iowa Supreme Court’s decision on gay marriage has long left the courtroom and will be in ballot boxes across Iowa once again.

Two years after three of the seven justices were not retained, Justice David Wiggins is up for retention, and this year the Iowa State Bar Association is responding with a 17-city “Yes Iowa Judges” bus tour.

“Judicial retention is usually a very sleepy affair,” said Tim Hagle, a University of Iowa associate professor of political science. “Usually, judges receive 70 to 80 percent of the vote, and I think [2010] caught the people in favor [of retention] surprised, and they vowed to not be flat-footed again.”

The tour, which will conclude today at the Johnson County Courthouse at 1 p.m., has been a part of the efforts of the bar association to respond to attacks on judges leveled by Iowans for Freedom — an anti-Wiggins group funded partially by the Family Leader, a social-conservative organization.

“An attack on the court system is an attack on Iowa lawyers,” said Dan Moore, a past president of the bar association. “We’re standing up and not backing down; we think Iowa has the best judges and justices in the land, and we’re very proud of it.”

One of the most frequent attacks used by Iowans for Freedom is labeling judges and justices as “activist judges,” a term that, according to one UI law professor, has no legal definition.

“[Activist judge] is a term levied against people who make unpopular decisions like desegregation, right of women to choose, and other actions including marriage, and [people] use the label against judges who make decision they may disagree with,” said UI clinical law Professor Leonard Sandler.

According to the Iowans for Freedom website, the phrase is used to describe Wiggins because “[he] made himself a target when he went outside his constitutional boundaries and forced same-sex marriage onto Iowans.”

Iowans for Freedom scheduled a 17-city bus tour, and speakers have included former GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum and current Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.

“The election in November may be the most important election in our lifetimes. From the top of the ticket on down, our freedoms and values are at stake,” Jindal said in a press release. “It’s critical we do everything we can to encourage conservatives to go to the polls and vote to uphold our values, freedoms, and constitutional rights.”

Hagle said he believes the issue of retention could increase the turnout of social conservatives in the presidential election.

“There’s a correlation of social conservatives who voted for more conservative candidates like Santorum in the caucuses and those concerned with judicial activism,” he said. “A few of those folks may have been willing to sit home without a social issue on the ballot.”

The Iowans for Freedom website also emphasizes that only 63 percent of Iowa lawyers surveyed are in favor of Wiggins’ retention, saying it’s equivalent to “a D-minus grade in school.”

“Most people would be very pleased with a nearly two-thirds approval rating,” Moore said.
Interpreting anything else from the survey was misleading, he said.

After three justices were not retained last election, both sides remain adamant about the stakes in a close contest.

“It’s less likely for Wiggins to not be retained, although two years ago it was unlikely as well,” Hagle said.

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