Iowa judges ruled out

Rejection of Iowan justices raises questions about judicial elections.

by Editorial board


Last week, Iowan voters found three state Supreme Court justices guilty of legislating from the bench and it cost the latter their jobs. Though this was grim news in the fight for marriage equality, it also struck a more worrisome blow âÄî against the independent judiciary.

All three justices contributed to 2009âÄôs milestone unanimous ruling that a ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional in Iowa. They were targeted by an aggressive and unprecedented campaign to remove them from office âÄî one supported by a significant amount of out-of-state money and advocacy. In Iowa, as in most of the country, it is the norm for elected judges not even to campaign, let alone be campaigned against.

The push to oust these judges was also fueled by a high level of public opposition to the ruling. Of the five states that currently allow same-sex marriage, Iowa has by far the least popular support, with only 44 percent in favor, according to a recent Columbia University poll.

Minnesota, where support for same-sex marriage is 47 percent and slightly above the national average, is one of the few remaining states to neither constitutionally ban nor approve the practice, though there is a legislative ban in place. The new Republican-dominated Legislature could pursue a ballot measure and constitutional ban âÄî even with DFLer Mark Dayton as governor âÄî though such bans can cut both ways and be overturned, as IowaâÄôs was.

The more troubling aspect of IowaâÄôs popular rejection of that court ruling is that it wrongfully politicizes a crucially apolitical office. It sends a signal to elected judges across the country that their jobs depend not on faithful interpretation of the law as it should but on their willingness to conform to the political vogue.