Outvoting Justice

I recently attended a lecture by Justice Michael Streight, who was one of the seven state supreme court judges who unanimously passed the ruling that made gay marriage legal in Iowa. A year after the decision, Streight was voted out of office, along with every other supreme court justice who was up for renewal. This is my take on what Justice Streight had to say in his address:

When the justices first received the gay-marriage case, they took a preliminary bench vote, and found that everyone agreed, without argument, that Iowa law permitted gay marriage. Ultimately, the justice who wrote the final ruling was a Republican.

Since the 1950s, Iowa has voted only seven supreme court judges out of office. Three of those seven lost their positions over the marriage ruling. However, just 5 percent of the judge-removal-campaign money came from Iowans themselves. The remaining 95 percent came from Mississippi, Washington DC, New Jersey and Newt Gingrich. No one, to Justice Streight’s knowledge, criticized the legal aspects of the ruling. No one found fault with the judges’ reasoning. In fact, most every attack centered on questions of religious belief, quasi science (debunked by the AMA and the APA) and the so-called interests of tradition. 

Few Iowans reacted to the judge-removal campaign until it was too late. The judges themselves didn’t react until deep into the election year. For the most part, Iowa figured that our judges had never lost their jobs to a political movement–and that they’d certainly never lost those jobs to a political movement whose funding came from out of state. And because we were so complacent, most of us didn’t fill out the judicial portion of that year’s election ballot. 

This November, Iowa Justice David Wiggins faces re-election. As one of the judges ruling for gay marriage, he’s featured in the No Wiggins bus tour. No-Wiggins participants include Rick Santorum and Bobby Jindal. 

This kind of campaigning has inspired movements in other states as well. In Florida, a similar judge ouster could happen in regards to a ruling on business laws. And in Michigan, a judge told Justice Streight that although he believes it’s Constitutionally correct to rule for gay marriage, he would never do so, because he’d lose his job.

So please: If you’re proud that our courts defend their constitutions, or if you’re happy with the separation of the branches of government, or if you’re just partial to the idea of a state’s own people making a state’s own decisions–vote for your judges. And vote for them manually. Voting a party-ticket won’t do it, because, as interpreters of the law, the justices aren’t affiliated with politics. That’s the whole bleeping point.

(Originally posted September 24, 2012)

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