December 22, 2014

OPINION: Iowa voters’ decision should spark debate

There will be much written and said in the coming days to explain the story of the 2010 election. Much of the punditry will focus on the massive red wave that swept the nation turning much of the U.S. electoral map into Republican hands from Governorships, to statehouses to the historic 60-plus gain in the U.S. House.

However, a quieter narrative occurred on Tuesday. While it isn’t getting quite the press, it deserves much more attention as its results bear long-term debate and consequences.

Iowa voters threw three state Supreme Court Justices from the bench on Tuesday. The ballot-box rebuke was fueled largely by a 2009 decision the justices made to allow same-sex couples to marry.
This isn’t a column about gay marriage. Although the campaign to toss the judges was fueled by the passionate issue, that’s not the message the rest of the country should take from the election’s results.

Seven justices sit on the Iowa Supreme Court, and their decision to allow gay marriage was unanimous. With their ruling, the judges declared that a law barring same-sex marriage violated the constitution’s equal-protection rights of gay and lesbian couples who wish to marry. The justices serve staggered terms, and the three up for retention in 2010 were booted from the bench on Tuesday. Vote totals showed Chief Justice Marsha Ternus and Justices David Baker and Michael Streit with less than the simple majority needed to stay on the bench.

Their removal marked the first time a Supreme Court Justice had not been retained since the retention system was adopted in 1962.

The results should lead to a discussion about the rights of the voters versus those who sit on the bench. To date, voters have soundly rejected gay marriage every time it’s appeared on the ballot. In the places where the right exists, the right is due purely to judicial fiat.

There are sound arguments on both sides as to why a retention system should be used. Should judges have to campaign? How can they make fair and impartial decisions that may be unpopular when they have to face voters in the next election?

However, should judges have the right to overrule the will of the people? Such has often been the case in the gay marriage debate. The people reject it at the ballot box only to have judges throw out their decision.

There is sound logic behind the checks and balances that make this country run. But the court systems are supposed to provide checks against other branches of government – not a check against the populous as a whole.

I don’t have the answers, but I think the Iowa voters’ decision and the court case that led to throwing members of the Supreme Court off the bench should certainly lead to the questions.

Comments

  1. Mark Kloster says:

    Iowa- “The State Of Hate”

  2. Jeff Barber says:

    As you stated “the judges declared that a law barring same-sex marriage violated the constitution’s equal-protection rights of gay and lesbian couples who wish to marry”, then why is it even put on a ballot to be voted on? It VIOLATED THE CONSTITUTION’S EQUAL-PROTECTION RIGHTS!!! It’s that simple! The BS-law VIOLATES your constitutional rights!! That has nothing to do with popularity of vote. So are you (and the people of Iowa) saying that if there is an idea of popularity, no matter how obscene it is but it’s popular, then it should be law if majority deems it so? The first thing that comes to my mind is the Court of Oyer and Terminer. Really popular in their day and extremely DEADLY. Now I know this was in 1692 (before constitution was probably even thought of) but that is why there is a Constitution that protects the rights of individuals, today. If 1692 is too long ago, how about moving a couple of those numbers around to about 1962ish and the Civil Rights movement? That’s a little closer to our era, right? Are there any differences there? What about the Supreme Court of the United States case of Loving vs. Virginia? “Punishment for marriage. — If any white person intermarry with a colored person, or any colored person intermarry with a white person, he shall be guilty of a felony and shall be punished by confinement in the penitentiary for not less than one nor more than five years.” And that was just 1967! As far as I’m concerned, this disastrous election that put even more BS-crazy republicans in power only inches us closer and closer to the extreme right. That way they can “fix” the Constitution by trimming a little off over here and a little off over there. Iowa, please.

  3. I would say these Supreme Court justices were doing their jobs correctly – making decisions based on the LAW and that is exactly what I want them to do.

    I do know one thing and that is that I do not want judges elected. To bring them into the dirty, rotten political world we have here in the U.S. today would be totally adverse to my best interests in my opinion.

    Lots of cruddy things going on in our world today and if you are concerned, then you better get fully informed and educated on issues, speak out when you feel you should, hold elected officials and government employees accountable and VOTE. And you better be very careful for whom you vote – you better be getting decent people to run for office and support them and you better be careful in doing that too.

  4. The Patriot says:

    Mr. Barber you are completely right. Isn’t ironic that, if left to a popular vote, the Jim Crow laws would still be intact. And isn’t scary that there are people who do not understand that the Constitution is the supreme law of the land. And if the preceding were the case, Ms. Thompson would not be a journalist today.

    There is no way one can interpret the Constitution to deny rights to any minority. It was designed to protect minorities from the “tyranny of the majority” (Alexis de Tocqueville).

  5. The Patriot says:

    PS: Judges (elected or appointed) are not to serve the will of the people, they are to enforce the law. They are a check on the peoples’ will and the other branches of government. Any high school civic student knows that. So the great insight Ms. Thompson claims to have concerning the Iowa elections only highlights Ms. Thompson’s ignorance of our system of government.

  6. Independent Observer says:

    I agree….judges should not be pulled, retained, appointed based on politics and campaigns. They must function independently with their decisions based on law/constitution not on the political atmosphere. But even the U.S. Supreme Court picks and chooses the cases they hear on these factors.

    The alternative is leaving appointments to governors and presidents isn’t always in the best interest of the state or nation either. Because it leads directly back to the political party in control at the time of appointment.

    The selection and appointment of judges is a double edge sword. But how to seperate the politics from the bench is problematic and impossible. Regardless of who you are or what you do as a profession, we all have political views and they are evident in every aspect of our lives. The reality — there is not way to prevent another Iowa from occurring. Sad, but true. And judges who wish to serve will begin ruling based on how they are/were appointed. We all use the ballot boxes as the only means to voice our opinons, beliefs, and political views.

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