Vander Plaats’ bad idea

Curtis Powers

The state of Iowa has one of the best court systems in the nation. It is a merit-based system that started in 1962.

When a seat opens, a commission of 15 recommends two or three justices to the governor who picks one. The commission has seven members from the state legal bar, seven appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate, and one member who’s the most senior Iowa Supreme Court justice who is not the chief justice.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce thinks it’s pretty good for business. It has rated Iowa the fifth-best legal climate in the nation and fourth for fairness and impartiality of judges.

Former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor was recently in Iowa. She spoke very highly of the Iowa process.

It is much better than electing judges which brings politics and special interests into the process. As she stated, “As Iowa goes, so goes the nation, and I wish the rest of the nation would hurry up and go.”

So if our judicial system is so good, why do people want to change it? Why, gay marriage, of course.

Bob Vander Plaats is spearheading a charge to unseat the three justices up for retention this year after a third failed gubernatorial bid. Two of those justices were appointed by his primary opponent, Terry Branstad.

You see, every few years each justice faces a retention vote mainly to ensure ethical standards are upheld. It’s not meant to be about individual court decisions they have made.

Vander Plaats disagrees. He think these “judicial activists” need to be stopped and reminded that they’re not to “legislate from the bench.” In an editorial published on his interest group’s website and in various Iowa papers, his main target seems to be the “ruling class.”

The “ruling class” needs to stop dictating societal beliefs to people. You mean like Brown v. Board of Education (1954)? You know that court decision that helped to integrate schools?

In his editorial, Vander Plaats tries to give a civics lesson about legislature making the laws, not the judiciary. That’s right. However, these justices did their job.

In the written opinion put forward in Iowa District Court ruling, Judge Mark Cady wrote, “As was observed by Justice Robert H. Jackson decades ago in reference to the United States Constitution, the very purpose of limiting the power of the elected branches of government by constitutional provisions like the Equal Protection Clause is ‘to withdraw certain subjects from the vicissitudes of political controversy, to place them beyond the reach of majorities and officials and to establish them as legal principles to be applied by the courts.”

He goes on, “The idea that courts, free from the political influences in the other two branches of government, are better suited to protect individual rights was recognized at the time our Iowa Constitution was formed … ‘Judges ought not to be partisans, and be influenced by partisan control.'”

He courageously points out, “Our responsibility, however, is to protect constitutional rights of individuals from legislative enactments that have denied those rights, even when the rights have not yet been broadly accepted, were at one time unimagined, or challenge a deeply ingrained practice or law viewed to be impervious to the passage of time.”

So regardless of how you feel about gay marriage, voting against retaining these judges is a bad idea. It politicizes the judiciary and allows for what Alexis de Tocqueville described as, “the tyranny of the majority.”

Judges shouldn’t have to worry about retention over individual decisions especially unanimous decisions like this one. Let them do their jobs in a fair, impartial manner based on the rule of law without fear of reprisal from politicians, corporations, unions and whoever else.

The system isn’t broken, so there is no need to fix it.