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Editorial: Don't politicize judges

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | OCTOBER 02, 2012 6:30 AM

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Last week, Patriot Voices partnered with Iowans for Freedom and Rick Santorum in a bus tour across Iowa to encourage Iowans to vote to remove Iowa Supreme Court Justice David Wiggins in the upcoming election.

Although the bus tour says it is promoting a better democratic society, it is incorrect in its claim — the group only further politicizes the judicial selection process and in turn politicizes Iowa’s judicial branch.

Justices are meant to be impartial or, better stated, beyond the corruptive power plays of special interests. Though this is idealistic, judges should be able to decide issues on a case-by-case basis without worry about the political backlash from the electorate. This bus tour forces justices into the political arena and destroys the very democracy they claim to promote. 

The “No Wiggins” bus-tour supporters and organizers believe that Wiggins inappropriately used his judicial authority to allow same-sex marriage in the state in April 2009. They also claim this judge was making a political statement and not a legal argument when making this decision.

Another bus tour promoted by the Iowa State Bar Association traveled to many of the same sites as the “No Wiggins” bus tour, and it also stopped in Iowa City to remind Iowans of the importance of judicial retention.  

Cindy Moser, the president of the Iowa State Bar Association, said the “Yes Iowa Judges tour” aimed to educate Iowans about judicial retention and discuss the importance of a fair and impartial court.  

“I think it has a very chilling effect on other judges and justices if their rulings are subject to changing political opinions — it’s very dangerous,” she said.

The Iowa State Bar Association preforms a judicial review, she said, and this year, the results of the statewide survey were overwhelmingly supportive of retaining all the judges.

“Our courts are the final guardians of our liberty, and they make decisions based on the Constitution,” Moser said. “If citizens believe that the finding is unconstitutional, one could submit a Constitutional amendment, not vote a judge or justice off the bench. That does nothing to change the law.”

There are situations in which it is reasonable to remove a judge from the bench, such as if a judge is seen to be too old or not performing the job to the proper capacity. A judge who is corrupt or is politicizing the bench are possible reasons to not retain.

But a judge is meant to interpret the law as it stands, and there is no evidence Wiggins did anything but that. Simply disagreeing with the decision based on political views of what is right and wrong is not a reason to not retain a judge — it is a reason to push the Iowa Legislature for a Constitutional amendment.

The Iowa Supreme Court has historically made difficult and controversial decisions that may otherwise have been impossible if the justices were subject to political campaigns and special interests. Without an impartial judiciary, Iowan students may not have access to schools and Iowa protesters may have lost their right to protest.

Not quite 90 years before the U.S. Supreme Court decided “separate but equal” schools were unconstitutional, the Iowa Supreme Court held that Iowa schools were open to all students in Clark v. Board of Directors in 1868.

Furthermore, the Iowa Supreme Court decided, before the U.S. Supreme Court decided, that all people have the right to protest in the decision Griffin v. Katz Drug Store in 1949.

The Iowa court has protected rights of all Iowans even when the time made its decisions politically unpopular but Constitutionally valid. And these are exactly the reasons the American electorate needs an impartial judicial system.


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