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Don’t politicize Iowa’s courts

By Staff | Oct 8, 2010

Almost a half century ago, Iowa adopted a system 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, political 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 three Supreme Court justices who are on the ballot this year.

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.

When voters go to the polls in November, they should demonstrate their support for professional, nonpolitical courts. The three Iowa Supreme Court justices on the ballot this year – David L. Baker, Michael J. Streit and Marsha Ternus – deserve our strong support. They did their job even though they must have known that rendering a correct legal decision would distress some Iowans. It is important to keep these fine jurists on the Supreme Court.

Turning judicial retention elections into a forum for sending political messages to members of the Iowa Legislature would seriously weaken Iowa’s fine court system. Farm News urges voters to reject the attempt to politicize Iowa’s courts.

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