Tours duel over judge retention
A warm, sunny afternoon set the scene for two dueling bus tours and about 50 people at East Leach Park Thursday.
The "No Wiggins" bus tour, aimed at removing one of the justices involved in the Iowa Supreme Court's unanimous decision that ruled the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional, arrived first.
"He's proven how brazen he is and I don't think he'll get any better unless we hold him to it," Iowans for Freedom Co-Chair Tamara Scott said of David Wiggins. "We talked about that perfect storm. I will tell you the sun is shining right here and it feels good, but there is still a black cloud looming, driving up right now as a matter of fact."
Scott was referring to an Iowa State Bar Association bus with "Yes Freedom, Yes Liberty, Yes Iowa Judges," painted on it, in opposition of the "No Wiggins" tour.
"Yes Iowa Judges" tour representatives waited until the first tour left before speaking on the issue, but Spirit Lake attorney Ned Bjornstad was not as patient, as he shouted, "Go away!" throughout the half-hour event. Spencer resident Dave Damstrom held a sign reading "Democracy, not theocracy," and "Equality for all is freedom," while others waved the message, "I'm a fan of Iowa's FAIR and IMPARTIAL courts."
Iowans for Freedom chairman Bob Vander Plaats charged the Supreme Court with ruling against "the laws of nature and the laws of nature's God" and legislating from the bench.
"The Varnum (v. Brien) opinion didn't stop with the voiding of the Defense of Marriage Act," the three-time Iowa gubernatorial candidate said. "It went beyond and said Iowa will be a same-sex marriage state. ... That's the legislature's job, not the court's job. Then they said all 99 counties will follow suit. They can't execute squat."
Vander Plaats also argued that Iowans' liberties are at risk because of Wiggins' and his six colleagues' decision.
"The vote 'no' advocates' description of the courts' ruling threatening freedom is false," past ISBA President Dan Moore countered. "They say if the justices are not voted out, all of our freedoms and rights are at risk, including the Second Amendment, our property and liberty. The truth is the Iowa Supreme Court applied the constitution to protect the freedoms and liberties of our citizens.
"The court's opponents make false statements and misleading claims," Moore continued. "We call upon Iowans to reject their use of prejudices and falsehoods and reject their efforts to politicize our courts."
He said the justices followed their sworn oath and applied the equal protection clause of the Constitution. Later, he added a "No" vote would not change the law.
Patriot Voices spokeswoman Kim Lehman called for consistency.
"In 2010, three of those justices were up for retention and were removed by Iowa voters," she said. "Now there is another judge that sat on that court that is up for retention. I have to remind everyone that if we removed those three, doesn't it make sense that this judge should also be removed?"
"In the Varnum (v. Brien) decision that was given to us by these nine activist judges, there was part of the opinion that stated, 'Plaintiffs presented an abundance of evidence and research confirmed by our own evidence and research," Lehman continued, saying that research violated Iowa Code Chapter 51.
Lehman referenced a quote by Iowa Supreme Court Justice David Wiggins, which is plastered on the side of the "No Wiggins" bus.
"Not only did this judge say, 'Tell me, in your best way, how can we get around the Iowa Constitution?' but he also broke the judicial conduct all judges are to uphold," Lehman said.
The quote came from an interview of eventual Supreme Court nominee Angela Onwuachi-Willig, an Iowa law professor who was not yet a member of the ISBA.
Scott, of Iowans for Freedom, referred to an IASB survey that showed 63 percent of Wiggins' peers would retain him, calling that figure the equivalent of a D- grade.
"He had high marks in individual categories," Moore said. "On the question of, 'Should he be retained?' that's where he received a 63 percent. There are no grades. That's close to a two-thirds approval rating. I'm guessing any politician would be happy with that."
Vander Plaats begged to differ, saying, "Most of the justices we voted off in 2010 were in the mid '80s. What they (survey respondents) said was Wiggins is arrogant, he's controversial, he's not very bright and he's lazy. And yet, we have people saying, 'But we should retain them.'"
Moore disputed those assessments, saying, "He knows Iowans, he knows the law, he knows the Constitution. It would be disappointing to lose him."
Furthermore, he argued against politicizing the Iowa court's system.
"When retention campaigns become political ... the fairness and impartiality of our courts are threatened," Moore said. "At the end of the day, the debate about controversial court decisions and the judges that make them boil down to a simple question. What kind of court system do we want? A court system that bases rulings based on public opinion polls, campaign contributions and political intimidation or a court system that issues impartial rulings based on the rule of law?"