photo: REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Why it Matters
Iowa’s merit selection and retention process is designed to keep politics and campaign money out of our courts, safeguarding its fairness and impartiality. Iowa courts have a long history of protecting the average citizen. The retention of Iowa judges should be based on their ability to uphold the law fairly and consistently — not on the outcome of a single decision with which someone disagrees.
Many Americans utilize the judicial system in some manner during their lifetime. Perhaps it is a family issue (divorce, custody, adoption, estate or inheritance settlement, etc.) or maybe it’s a business matter. Others face criminal charges or civil liability issues. Whatever the case may be, standing before a judge or justice can be intimidating. The last thing anyone wants is to worry about whether that judge is going to be fair and impartial.
Money and politics wreak havoc on our fair and impartial system of justice, as do threats of revenge. Justices and judges must be free from outside influences and assured their position as a legal decision-maker is not threatened if they make an “unpopular” decision. The job of our judiciary is not to make a decision based on polls or popularity. Rather, it is to make decisions based on our state’s Constitution, facts, and the law as it is applicable.
In the 2010 judicial retention election, three Iowa Supreme Court Justices faced an unprecedented retention challenge and unfortunately, were not retained. The challenge was made simply as retaliation for the court’s unanimous decision in the Varnum v. Brien case, which gave Iowa marriage equality for same-sex families. With close to $1 million in out-of-state funding from extremist groups, Bob Vander Plaats and THE FAMiLY LEADER successfully injected fear tactics into the judicial retention election and skewed the public perception of the role of the judiciary.
In 2012, Justice Not Politics and the Iowa Bar Association led the charge to protect the courts and the one Justice up for retention. Iowa Supreme Court justice David Wiggins retained his seat due in large part to the hard work of Justice Not Politics, the Iowa Bar Association, and the many ally organizations who worked tirelessly to challenge THE FAMiLY LEADER’s ill-fated efforts.
Unfortunately, the fight to protect the judiciary is not over. Public statements from Bob Vander Plaats, potential presidential candidates, and state legislators continue to signal an ongoing battle to influence the judicial process in Iowa, despite poll numbers showing Iowans are against further attacks on our judiciary. The fight may continue in 2016 when the remaining three justices from the “Varnum Court” will be up for retention.
JUST Courts needs your voice — progressive people of faith and no faith must step up and work to protect Iowa’s fair and impartial courts!
A project to engage Iowa’s progressive voices of faith in protecting Iowa’s fair and impartial courts.