Iowa Chief Justice Defends Marriage Decision, Judiciary Review: ‘Courts Serve The Law’

This morning, Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Cady defended the court’s 2009 decision to overturn the Iowa Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and allow same-sex couples to marry in the state, even as three Republican lawmakers in the Iowa House were drafting articles of impeachment against him and the three justices that joined the opinion but “did not stand for retention in November.” Cady was the author of the unanimous marriage ruling, Varnum v. Brien.

The Chief Justice devoted almost two-thirds of his annual ‘Condition of the Judiciary‘ address to the opinion and the role of the courts. “Unlike our political institutions, courts serve the law, not the interests of constituents,” Cady said. “Courts serve the law, not the demands of special interest groups. Courts serve the law, not the electorate’s reaction to a particular decision. By serving the rule of law, courts protect the civil, political, economic and social rights of all citizens.”

Cady reminded lawmakers that “the duty of courts to review the constitutionality of laws is known as judicial review and is one of our most basic responsibilities…This is the very duty the court exercised in the Varnum decision.” “[S]ince 1846, litigants in Iowa in roughly 1000 cases have asked the Iowa Supreme Court to protect their constitutional rights by invalidating a state law,” Cady said. “During this same time, the court has declared acts of the legislature unconstitutional in over 150 cases. Unlike the Varnum decision, however, most of these court decisions have received little attention. But, that lack of attention does not diminish the strength and importance of the principle at stake.”

But the message seemed to be lost on Cady’s critics. Following the speech, State Senator Kent Sorenson (R) said, “He threw a match on the tinder box, in my opinion…I think he made a foolish mistake by addressing this issue in front of the chamber and I wouldn’t have done it if I was him.” State Sen. Mark Chelgren (R) said “prior to Cady’s speech he was undecided on whether he supported impeachment for the remaining justices. “After hearing the new [chief] justice of the Supreme Court, it is clear to me that the remaining justices and the new leader [have] no comprehension of what the separation of powers in our constitution means,” Chelgren said.

Conservative lawmakers will introduce a resolution that will begin the process of placing a marriage referendum on the ballot and say they have enough support in “the Republican-controlled House to win passage.” Former three-time gubernatorial candidate Vander Plaats is also fundraising “towards efforts to force an impeachment or resignation of the remaining four high court justices,” an effort that is not supported by Governor-elect Terry Branstad (R-IA). Plaats has called on the four remaining justices to “voluntarily resign their positions.” (H/T: Iowa Independent)