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Keep courts free of politics

August 12, 2012
Messenger News

Some Hawkeye State politicians are once again attempting to use the retention vote for a Supreme Court justice to publicize their policy goals. That unfortunate attempt to manipulate court decisions is harmful to our state's legal system.

Almost a half century ago, Iowa adopted a method for selecting judges that is designed to maximize the quality of jurists while keeping the appointment and retention process relatively free of politics.

Nonpartisan selection commissions review the qualifications of potential judges and forward to the appointing official or body recommended finalists. In the case of justices of the Iowa Supreme Court and District courts, the governor makes the final choice.

Periodically, voters are afforded the chance to vote on whether or not judges should remain in office. This mechanism was intended as a way to remove jurists who have proved exceptionally flawed. It was not designed to be a referendum on any particular judicial decision.

This system has worked well for Iowa.

Unfortunately, activists who are unhappy with the unanimous decision by the Iowa Supreme Court that a statute prohibiting same-sex civil marriages is unconstitutional are attempting to show their displeasure with that ruling by urging Iowans to vote against the retention of the Supreme Court justice who is on the ballot this year - David Wiggins.

From a strictly legal standpoint, the court's ruling in this case was straightforward. All seven justices - representing a broad political and legal spectrum - reached the same conclusion: outlawing same-sex marriage isn't permissible under Iowa's Constitution. Whether or not one would like that to be the case, the justices did their job properly - they tested the law in question against the relevant constitutional provisions that presently exist.

Those advocacy groups and citizens who wish the Iowa Constitution contained language that would permit a statute outlawing same-sex civil marriage have the option of seeking amendatory language to that document. Attempting to show displeasure with the current constitutional language by attacking the judges who make sure laws comply with its provisions inappropriately injects politics into the judicial retention process.

Turning judicial retention elections into a forum for sending political messages to members of the Iowa Legislature - or for that matter, sitting judges - would seriously weaken Iowa's fine court system.

The Messenger deplores policy advocates who are exploiting a controversial issue without regard to the harm this could do to Iowa's courts.

It's time for this nonsense to stop.



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