Justice involved in Iowa same-sex marriage decision retained


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Defying many who campaigned for his removal, Iowa Supreme Court Justice David Wiggins will keep his seat.

Iowans voted to retain Wiggins, despite a strong political effort to oust him following his participation in a court decision that legalized same-sex marriage in 2009.

Though the vote to retain Wiggins was by far the most publicized, Supreme Court Justices Edward Mansfield, Thomas Waterman, and Bruce Zager were also retained.

Todd Pettys, a University of Iowa law professor, said the vote sends a message to future anti-retention campaigns. 

“The people of Iowa have had two years now of a lot of coverage in the press and a lot of discussion about judicial retention,” he said.

In Johnson County, voters averaged 54 percent to retain all four justices.

The judicial-retention measure has gained state and national attention since three Supreme Court justices were ousted in the 2010 midterm election.

Justices David Baker, Michael Streit, and Marsha Ternus were ousted by about 54 percent of the vote. Johnson County voters favored the retention of the three justices by 68 percent.

In 2010, Bob Vander Plaats, the president and CEO of the conservative group Family Leader, spearheaded a campaign effort to oust the three judges.

Leading up to the 2012 election, continued campaigning with statewide bus tours in effort to urge voters against Wiggin’s retention. The Iowa Bar Association countered with as efforts to retain Wiggins, including a bus tour.

Patrick Grady, the chief justice for the 6th District, said he feels the backlash in 2010 was unfair.

“I don’t think the Varnum decision should have caused anyone to lose their job,” he said. “They did a very exhaustive study of the tradition of the Iowa Constitution … the scholarship on the decision was sound.”

And though some people said many voters were unaware of the issue in 2010, that was not true this election.

“Everyone saw this coming; everyone anticipated this,” Pettys said. “A lot of people know about this issue, and a lot of people had time to think about their stance.”

Roughly half the United States has a similar merit selection and retention system to Iowa’s; the rest of the nation holds judicial campaign elections.

Despite the loss, Greg Baker, the executive director of Iowans for Freedom, said the results are still significant.

“We’re obviously disappointed; we really wanted to send a message that Iowans will not tolerate judicial activism,” Baker said late Tuesday evening. “But at the end of the day, roughly 47 percent still don’t have confidence in the court.”

Baker said the organization is unsure about future anti-retention efforts for the 2016 election, when more judges involved in the same-sex marriage decision will be on the ballot.

Pettys said the results might be a sign the retention vote will go back to pre-2010 standings where judges were normally retained.

“It sends a signal that the people of Iowa will be reluctant in the future to use retention as a way to express their disapproval of individual court rulings,” he said.

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