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Iowa supreme court justice retention sparks discussion

BY LAUREN COFFEY | NOVEMBER 08, 2012 6:30 AM

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Tuesday’s election saw the retention of Iowa Supreme Court Justice David Wiggins, who was part of the controversial 2009 decision that legalized gay marriage. And in four other states, residents voted to legalize same-sex marriage.

These decisions, experts and officials say, show that the country is moving forward in a progressive way.

“I certainly hoped [people would retain the Supreme Court justices], and I thought that the responses to the anti-retention effort was much better this time,” said Lois Cox, UI clinical professor of law. “People had more time to think, they were better prepared. I think they really regretted what happened.”

In 2009, the Iowa Supreme Court voted on a case making same-sex marriage legal. Some Iowans were outraged and rallied to remove the justices. Three justices — Marsha Ternus, David Baker and Michael Streit — were not retained.

Wiggins, 61, was up for retention this year, and he received a 54 percent vote to remain on the bench.

Wiggins released a statement stating he is pleased with the decision.

“I want to thank everybody who work so hard to keep politics out of our courts,” he said in a statement Wednesday. “And I want to thank the people of Iowa who preserved the fairness and impartiality of Iowa’s courts and agree that equal is equal.”

AJ Spiker, the chairman of the Iowa GOP, said time will tell if the public will want to remove the other justices in the 2016 election.

“Removing judges is very difficult for good reasons,” Spiker said. “Obviously, we supported the removal of Justice Wiggins.”

Iowans for Freedom, an organization that strongly advocated to oust Wiggins could not be reached for comment Wednesday evening.

“We’re obviously disappointed; we really wanted to send a message that that Iowans will not tolerate judicial activism,” said Greg Baker, executive director of Iowans for Freedom, told The Daily Iowan Tuesday night. “But at the end of the day, roughly 47 percent still don’t have confidence in the court.”

Several states also legalized same-sex marriage, which officials say voters are now rethinking their stances on traditional issues.

“I think the polls are seeing a shift in people’s attitude towards gay marriage,” said Cynthia Moser, president of the Iowa State Bar Association. “I believe this is the first time any states had voted on same-sex marriage on a ballot.”

Tuesday night, Maine, Maryland, and Washington voted to legalize same-sex marriage.

A Constitutional Amendment to define marriage as between one man and one woman failed to pass in Minnesota.

Officials are mixed as to whether the rest of the United States will continue the pattern of legalizing same-sex marriage.

“It’s very much a state-by-state issue,” Moser said.

Others are more confident on the matter.

“[We were] elated, ecstatic, absolutely thrilled,” said Molly Tafoya, One Iowa communications director. “We made history with the ballot measures. I know we’ll see the day when all 50 states legalize [same-sex] marriage.”


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