Conservative groups ramp-up effort to oust Justice Wiggins

David Bartholomew

The conservative start-up group Iowans for Freedom, led by social conservative activist Bob Vander Plaats, has moved forward with its campaign to remove Justice David Wiggins from the Iowa Supreme Court. The campaign is seen as retribution for Wiggins’ ruling in the famous 2009 case Varnum v. Brien which legalized same-sex marriage in Iowa.

Backing Vander Plaats, who is also president of The Family Leader, a social conservative political organization, is the National Organization for Marriage which pledged to match up to $100,000 in contributions these last two weeks in the campaign to remove Wiggins.

“We launched a campaign against Wiggins because he legislated from the bench,” Vander Plaats said. “He attempted to change the constitution from the bench and now he is up for election and we think he should be held accountable for his actions.”

Vander Plaats’ outrage stems from his group’s belief that marriage is defined as between one man and one woman and that Justice Wiggins did not interpret the constitution correctly when he and his other colleagues at the time made their landmark 2009 decision.

Furthermore, this is not the first time this has happened to Iowa Supreme Court justices. In 2010, a similar campaign was made against Justices Marsha Ternus, David Baker, and Michael Streit who were up for a retention vote after they also ruled in favor of same-sex marriage. The 2010 campaign brought out a strong flood of social conservative voters to the polls and successfully removed all three justices.

Now Wiggins, who is also on the ballot with three other justices, but the only one who remains from the 2009 decision, is facing the exact same fight. What’s more, Wiggins was also given the second-lowest rating of 63.3 percent by the Iowa State Bar Association, which surveyed lawyers across the state on their opinions of judges they have appeared before. Wiggins’ 2009 ruling may have impacted the low rating but it still remains much higher than opinion polls of other branches of the government.

“Wiggins is seen as arrogant, lazy and controversial by his colleagues,” Vander Plaats said. “Anyone with a rating of a D- is not worthy of serving on the Iowa Supreme Court. Wiggins’ peers rank much higher than him.”

Curriculum and Instruction Associate Professor Warren Blumenfeld, who teaches such classes as Queer Studies at Iowa State and who himself is gay, takes offense to the targeted campaign against Wiggins.

“It’s intimidation of the judicial process,” Blumenfeld said. “We should have the federal model and have judges there for life so they are free to rule on the merits of the case and disregard the politics.”

Blumenfeld also expressed concern about the message this campaign sends to young people and minority groups.

“I’m also scared of the message this sends to young people. It condones and justifies the bullying of people who are different,” Blumenfeld said. “Because of the actions of groups like Vander Plaats’ we are sending the message of which group it is okay to marginalize. I refuse to let him use our bodies as stepping stones for his political ambitions.”

Backing Wiggins is the Iowa Democratic Party and groups like Justice Not Politics, which campaigns to keep politics out of judicial decision-making. However, they have a steep hill to climb and are going to face lots of money and manpower on the side opposing Wiggins.

Election will take place on November 6.