The Iowa Supreme Court has ruled unanimously that in the case of same-sex marriages, both parents must be permitted to have their names listed on a newborn child’s birth certificate.
The court ruling was premised on the same reasoning applied in Varnum v. Brien, according to a Washington Blade article. That Iowa Supreme Court ruling in 2009 found it unconstitutional to deny civil marriage to same-sex couples. The following year, an ouster campaign funded in large part by out-of-state interest groups led to the removal in a retention (up-or-down) election of three Supreme Court justices who had participated in Varnum.
A similar attempt in 2012 to remove Justice David Wiggins from the bench did not succeed. Justice Wiggins (photo) wrote the recent decision about birth certificates.
“It is important for our laws to recognize that married lesbian couples who have children enjoy the same benefits and burdens as married opposite-sex couples who have children,” he wrote, according to a Los Angeles Times article. Read more
A recent amendment introduced in the Iowa legislature to slash the salaries of four state Supreme Court justices over a controversial ruling “takes the cake” for retaliatory action, but it also raises serious questions, Des Moines Register columnist Rekha Basu writes.
It is time for Iowa legislators to get over an “obsession” and move on to “bread-and-butter issues,” Basu adds. Regarding the measure’s sponsors, she asks:
“Would they have this be the new precedent, then — that whenever the court issues a particularly unpopular or controversial ruling with which legislators disagree, the legislative branch can retaliate? Will pay cuts be determined by how unpopular the ruling is? And where would that leave contentious issues like civil rights, women’s rights and racial equality?”
The Iowa Supreme Court justices who participated in a unanimous 2009 decision on marriage for same-sex couples have faced ouster campaigns in elections and impeachment attempts over the controversial ruling.
In 2010, three of them were swept off the court in a historic retention election; last year, in a different political climate, voters gave a fourth justice a new term. Now there’s another effort to retaliate against him and the other justices who participated in the ruling: An amendment proposed to a judicial branch bill would slash their salaries $25,000.
“How ridiculous can you get?” asked Senate Judiciary Chairman Rob Hogg, a Democrat, according to a Quad City Times article. He said the amendment’s sponsors don’t understand the court’s role correctly, and it is the court’s job to interpret Iowa law, while the legislature is entitled to clarify it.
At West High School in Iowa this week, state Supreme Court Justice David Wiggins spoke on how the high court has raised its public profile since he joined the bench a decade ago.
According to the Iowa City Press-Citizen, Wiggins declined to speak on last year’s retention vote when he was the lone justice on the ballot.
“I don’t talk about that. It’s done and done. I didn’t campaign before and I’m not campaigning now. People voted the way they did and that’s how it turned out,” Wiggins said.
Wiggins did not speak much about the constitutional case on marriage for same-sex couples that led to a challenge from conservative groups against his being retained. Instead, he focused on the role the courts play in upholding the rights of all Iowans.
Despite the removal of three Iowa Supreme Court justices in 2010 retention (up-or-down) elections, some advances have occurred since then, says a newer member of the court.
Justice Thomas Waterman, appointed in 2011 and successful in a 2012 retention vote, also pointed to some problems that have followed the ouster. He stoutly defended Iowa’s merit-based selection system for choosing judges.
Before an audience at St. Ambrose University in Davenport, Justice Waterman labeled the removal of the three justices “an unprecedented shock,” according to a Quad City Times article. He called the historic ouster “a wake-up call that organized attacks on the judicial can happen and do work.”
The Iowa Supreme Court has weathered a “perfect storm” of anti-judicial sentiment that began in 2010, says State Court Administrator David Boyd.
A controversial decision in 2009 concerning same-sex marriage was followed by state budget cuts that brought disruption to the court, the WCF Courier quoted Boyd as saying. In 2010, Chief Justice Marsha Ternus and Associate Judges Michael Streit and David Baker were ousted in a retention election.
Gov. Terry Branstad has since appointed three new justices, but a backlog of cases developed during the turnover period. Boyd says the court is now back on track.
“I think as an organization, we’ve made great strides. I think there’s a lot less angst than there was a few years ago,” he said.
Things continued to improve in 2012 when Justice David Wiggins withstood a negative, anti-retention campaign and maintained his place on the bench. Boyd says it was due to the work of the Iowa State Bar Association and judicial advocacy organizations.
“The way I view 2010, it was kind of like the perfect storm. I think there were a lot of people – at least those that talked to me – who just didn’t think it could happen and consequently maybe didn’t turn the ballot over and vote or didn’t talk to their family and friends,” Boyd said.
Iowa is one of only two states, with Idaho, having an all-male Supreme Court. A study by University of Iowa law student Gina Messamer says that Iowa should push for changes in gender diversity in its state courts, the Associated Press reports.
Messamer says that the lack of female representation on the state Supreme Court should be addressed when considering that 31% of Iowa’s high court members are female.
Only two women have ever served on Iowa’s Supreme Court, notes an Iowa Gazette column. Former Chief Justice Marsha Ternus was the last woman to sit on the bench, and she was ousted in a retention election in 2010. Only 21 percent of the applicants for Supreme Court vacancies between 1978 and 2011 were women.
Messamer found in her study that a relatively small number of women apply for high-court positions and even fewer are nominated. She said her study also found that female candidates had been asked to “field sexist and irrelevant questions” during the application process.
Iowa’s Judicial Nominating Commission should address these subtle biases against female candidates in order to improve gender diversity on the bench, Messamer says.
“I grew up in Iowa and I never felt that I was denied any opportunity because I was a woman,” she said. “It doesn’t make it harder for me to imagine my career, but it does make me think it might be harder to get what I want. “
Minnesota Judge Jeff Thompson, chairman of the Minnesota District Judges Association, says in a Winona Daily News editorial that the state should only switch to a system of retention elections if that system guaranteed a credible judicial performance evaluation program, and notices to incumbent judges when their “retention was being challenged.
Thompson wrote this in response to another Winona Daily News editorial by retired Judge Dennis Challeen which endorsed adopting a system of merit selection for choosing judges.
Thompson refers to a merit selection method known as the Missouri System, and says that retention elections don’t completely eliminate the influence of politics or campaign cash. He cites the ouster of three Iowa Supreme Court justices in 2010 who were removed from the bench during a retention election. Read more
On Wednesday, former Iowa Supreme Court Justices Marsha Ternus, Michael Streit and David Baker spoke at the Colorado Judicial Institute’s 10th Annual Judicial Excellence for Colorado dinner. The three spoke on the importance of an independent judiciary and expounded upon being ousted from the bench for political reasons, according to the Denver Business Journal.
All three of the justices were removed from the bench in 2010 in a retention election after they ruled same-sex marriage constitutional in Varnum v. Brien (see Gavel Grab). Streit said groups outside Iowa spent almost $2 million in a campaign against them.
Ternus, Streit and Baker all agreed that they were caught “flat-footed,” and didn’t know how to defend themselves against the negative campaign. “The business community’s response to the [ouster] campaign was almost non-existent,” Baker said.
Ternus argued that the legal community as well as the business community stand to gain from having an independent judiciary. Companies want to know the judges will follow the rule of law, she said. Read more
In these other dispatches about fair and impartial courts:
- In Pennsylvania, six judges are suing to invalidate the state’s mandatory retirement law for judges, reports the Wall Street Journal Law Blog. “To be a good judge requires good judgment, and judgment is a function of, inter alia, age and experience. Judicial performance thus frequently peaks late in life,” states the complaint filed by the judges.
- On Tuesday, judges from all over New Mexico traveled to Santa Fe to testify before the Legislative Finance Committee. According to the Associated Press, the judges are looking to get a 3 percent increase in funding for next year’s budget.
- The retention of Iowa State Supreme Court Justice David Wiggins was a victory for “those who have faith in the state’s merit system for selecting judges,” states a Gazette op-ed.