Iowa Newspapers Condemn Politicized Campaign To Oust Supreme Court Justice

Bob Vander Plaats, Rick Santorum, and Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-LA) are touring Iowa to campaign against the retention of Iowa Supreme Court Justice David Wiggins in retaliation for his participation in a 2009 ruling that legalized same-sex marriage. The Iowa State Bar Association is following close behind to rebut their politicizing effort. And as the bus tour continues, the state’s newspapers are railing against the effort. This weekend, the Sioux City Journal addressed the implications for judicial integrity:

Regardless of their views about gay marriage, Iowans should understand: The independent foundation on which a strong court system is based is at risk of being weakened in our state. The kinds of organized campaigns we have witnessed in 2010 and again this year to drive out judges as political retaliation for a ruling establishes an unsettling precedent for a future in which the infusion of political ideology routinely will force Iowa judges to raise money and wage political campaigns to stay on the bench. […]

According to Vander Plaats, he’s working to restore integrity to our court system. In our view, he’s doing the opposite – sucking integrity out of it.

Rekha Basu, columnist for the Des Moines Register, similarly said last week that “this campaign is nothing more than blackmail”:

Three honorable justices have already lost retention elections over this. Now a fourth could. That’s outrageous. But the damage goes beyond the individuals involved. If this campaign succeeds, it could subvert Iowa’s system of blind and impartial justice and force judges to wage costly campaigns to keep their seats when they issue unpopular rulings.

If justices must calculate the political fallout each time they rule in a controversial case, we could see rulings that are not based on justice, but on preserving careers.

Indeed, marriage equality was the unanimous ruling of the entire state Supreme Court, not partisan judicial activism. The freedom to marry is guaranteed by Iowa’s constitution, and anyone who respects that document should also uphold an independent judiciary, not a politicized one.