Iowa Retention Redux: A Renewed Attack on Our System of Justice

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August 2, 2012

After the success of a mean-spirited and well-funded political attack on the Iowa judiciary in 2010, antigay groups are at it again—leading another misinformation campaign designed to persuade voters to remove judges if they don't agree with a particular court decision.

In 2009, the Iowa Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision in Lambda Legal's lawsuit Varnum v. Brien, striking down Iowa's marriage ban and extending the freedom to marry to same-sex couples.

In response, antigay groups launched an outright attack on Iowa's courts and the freedom to marry, which resulted in the ousting of three well-respected Iowa Supreme Court justices during a routine retention election.

This attempt to bully the bench was intended to have broad implications for judges across the nation, and the message delivered by these single-issue groups was clear: Rule against us, and you will be next.

Now it is Iowa 2010 all over again.

Yesterday, Republican Party of Iowa chairman A.J. Spiker, called for the removal of the fourth state Supreme Court justice who joined the unanimous opinion in Varnum, urging a "no" vote in this year's retention election.

According to Spiker's statement:

Just as Iowans successfully showed in 2010, it is again time to put a check on this power and reign [sic] in an activist judge from his position of misused authority. This is the only chance voters have to make their voice heard and we must take the opportunity to remove Justice David Wiggins from his post and show him his arrogance and disregard for the law does indeed have consequences... Vote "No" on retaining Justice David Wiggins and help end the bullying of activist judges once and for all.

Spiker's reckless statement represents a fundamental misunderstanding of the role of our courts and the retention process.

Judges are accountable to the Constitution and the law not politics or public opinion. They have a duty to ensure that the constitutional rights of individuals and minorities do not fall victim to the politics and whims of the majority. The unanimous decision by the Iowa Supreme Court in Varnum, issued by a bipartisan group of justices, should inspire public confidence in the integrity of our courts.

Here at Lambda Legal we will continue to defend our courts against harmful intimidation tactics that seek to politicize our system of justice.

As Lambda Legal's Marriage Project Director, Camilla Taylor, said in her piece "What Happened in Iowa":

We cannot allow bullies to intimidate us. We must continue to bring cases on behalf of people who have been wronged, and we have faith that the courts remain a refuge for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender people, and people with HIV who have suffered discrimination and been deprived basic freedoms. But we must do more than win in court; we must win hearts and minds and educate the public on how our constitutional democracy is supposed to work.