Daily Iowan Endorsement: Vote yes on judicial retention


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The Daily Iowan Editorial Board stands firmly in the “yes” camp in regards to judicial retention. In fact, we regret even having to take up the issue on this page, as the Iowa Constitution is clear on the matter.

Judge David Wiggins served on the Iowa Supreme Court in the Varnum v. Brien decision in 2009, which legalized same-sex marriage in Iowa and which incited anti-gay organizations around the state and nation, including a recent bus tour lead by Rick Santorum, to mobilize against the court.

Three of Wiggins’ fellow justices out of seven on the court were ousted in 2010 because of their votes in the unanimous decision, and the anti-Wiggins group, Iowans for Freedom, vowed to continue its campaign until every so-called “activist” judge involved in the Varnum decision had been removed.

The group’s scare tactics come in stark contrast to David Wiggins’ decision not to campaign for his spot on the bench, as befits a post that is meant to be neutral and nonpolitical in nature. Yet if the 2010 trend of retaliation against justices continues and Wiggins is removed, as were his colleagues were last election cycle, a dangerous precedent will be established.

As the Iowa Bar states, “Judges must be neutral and follow the rule of law.” Yet if judicial intimidation becomes the norm, the judiciary cannot possibly maintain the neutrality necessary to make unpopular — but constitutionally sound — decisions. Judges will begin to respond to political pressure instead of a studied reading and application of the law. They will become politically polarized, risking the same stalemate Congress has found itself in over the last four years — a fate that is exactly what the Constitution intends to guard against.

Iowa has a long tradition of being on the right side of history. Eighty-six years before Brown v. Board of Education struck down its previous “separate but equal” decision as unconstitutional, the Iowa Supreme Court decided Iowa schools were open to all students regardless of color in its 1868 decision, Clark v. Board of Directors.

Likewise, in the court’s 1873 Coger v. North West Union Packet Co. decision, the court ruled that African Americans could not be denied equal access to public accommodations.

Again in 1949, in Griffin v. Katz Drug Store, the state Supreme Court upheld the conviction of a drugstore owner who refused to serve African American customers, determining that the discrimination violated Iowa civil-rights statutes.   

If Iowa had established a tradition of removing any justices that made these decisions from the beginning in 1868, it is doubtful that the court would have continued issuing opinions that upheld Iowans’ civil rights in 1873 and 1949.

In 1962, Iowa voters voted to amend the Constitution of the state. Instead of electing judges with a popular vote, the states’ citizens agreed that a merit selection and subsequent retention elections for judges would closer meet Iowans’ needs for an impartial judiciary.

In doing so, Iowa committed itself further to the checks and balances of the U.S. Constitution, which establishes a Supreme Court free of the political pressure of elections and states that “the judicial power shall extend to all cases, in law and equity, arising under this Constitution, the laws of the United States.” 

“Judges,” the Constitution continues, “both of the supreme and inferior courts, shall hold their offices during good behavior.”

The targeted campaign against Wiggins suggests that he should be ousted under this last clause. Yet Wiggins has done nothing that would suggest he has compromised the “Integrity, Professional Competence, Judicial Temperament, Experience, and Service” that Iowa has laid out as measures for its judges to be assessed by.

The campaign against Wiggins is clear, and it has nothing to do with the Constitution and everything to do with politics.

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