Iowa Bill Would Reduce Pro-Marriage Equality Justices’ Pay By 85 Percent

Iowa state Rep. Tom Shaw

In 2009, the Iowa Supreme Court unanimously held that the Iowa Constitution does not permit marriage discrimination against gay couples. Four of the seven justices who reached that decision remain on the court today, and a pair of Iowa lawmakers have a plan to punish them four years after they extended the blessings of liberty to gay Iowans:

“It’s our responsibility to maintain the balance of power” between the three co-equal branches of government, Rep. Tom Shaw, R-Laurens, said Tuesday.

The justices “trashed the separation of powers” with their unanimous Varnum v. Brein decision and implementation of same-sex marriage without a change in state law banning any marriages expect between one man and one woman, added Rep. Dwayne Alons, R-Hull.

Their amendment to Senate File 442, the judicial branch budget bill, would lower the salaries of the four justices on the seven-member court who were part of the unanimous Varnum v. Brein decision to $25,000 – the same as a state legislator.

It’s difficult to view this bill as anything other than an effort to drive these justices off the bench. As of 2010, an associate justice of the Iowa Supreme Court earned $163,200, so this bill would cut their pay by nearly 85 percent. Iowa state legislators are not full-time, which explains why they receive such low salaries.

More importantly, this bill would punish the four justices it targets for the offense of following the unambiguous words of their state’s constitution. The Iowa Constitution speaks in unusually clear and expansive language in describing the promise of equality guaranteed to all citizens in Iowa — “[a]ll laws of a general nature shall have a uniform operation; the general assembly shall not grant to any citizen or class of citizens, privileges or immunities, which, upon the same terms shall not equally belong to all citizens.” No plausible interpretation of these words permits marriage discrimination against same-sex couples.