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Stop this nonsense

By Staff | Jan 7, 2011

Thanks in large part to the demagoguery of Sioux City businessman and perennial candidate Bob Vander Plaats, the Nov. 2 judicial retention election for three of Iowa’s Supreme Court justices was viewed by some voters as a referendum on whether same-sex marriages should be legal in Iowa.

Political activists unhappy with a unanimous decision by the Iowa Supreme Court that a statute prohibiting same-sex civil marriages is unconstitutional showed their displeasure by removing the three justices who were on the ballot this year. Now Vander Plaats wants the remaining justices to resign and is putting pressure on Gov.-elect Terry Branstad to undermine the integrity of the court by making this issue a litmus test in future appointments.

It’s time for this nonsense to stop.

If the citizens of our state want to ban same-sex marriage, they can do so by amending the Iowa Constitution. The only offense the justices who were voted off the court and those who remain committed was to apply the existing provisions of the constitution correctly. And that, quite frankly, is what they were hired to do. They have been made scapegoats because politicians in the Legislature have refused to act on the constitutional changes opponents of same-sex marriage favor.

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. It now, however, faces a crisis.

By turning judicial appointments and retention votes into forums in which to champion political points of view, Vander Plaats and his supporters are in danger of destroying the integrity of this state’s courts. That must not be allowed to take place.

Farm News urges the remaining Supreme Court justices to ignore a cynical political opportunist’s urging that they resign. They did their job properly and should stay in place. The Judicial Nominating Commission and Gov.-elect Branstad should likewise make it clear that their commitment to keeping Iowa’s courts out of politics is firm and will remain so.

Bob Vander Plaats has exploited a controversial issue without regard to the harm he is doing. His shameful actions confirm that Iowa voters have been wise in repeatedly rejecting his bids for high political office.

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