Former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor visited Iowa last week to praise the state’s embattled judiciary. Our courts here are fair and impartial, she said.
Court backers were overjoyed. But they weren’t the only ones happy to see her.
Her visit also likely pleased the fuming folks pushing hard to eject three Iowa Supreme Court justices up for retention this fall. It probably also brought a smile to the faces of those hoping voters approve a constitutional convention, with court-knee-capping at the top of the agenda.
They’re happy because her appearance plays squarely into the myth they’re peddling about Iowa’s highest court. They desperately want you to believe that the Iowa Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court are exactly the same thing — all-powerful, highly politicized, ideologically driven tribunals that deliver landmark edicts by the bushel.
They want us to believe that the ruling striking down Iowa’s ban on same-sex marriage didn’t really result from a full, fair hearing of legal arguments, praised, at the time, by both sides. No, it was a power grab by robed activists with an agenda, with more to come.
Anyone who follows Iowa’s highest court knows this is nonsense. Understanding the court means reading its opinions, not just one. That’s how you get a sense of what it really does.
The Iowa Supreme Court spent its summer, for instance, settling a lot of cases dealing with workers’ compensation laws. There was a meat plant worker who died trying to save a co-worker, a guy hit by a pickup during what his employer called “horseplay” and a man who lost a leg in a forklift accident.
The court punished several lawyers for ethical misdeeds, including one who slept with a client. Several criminals asked the court to throw out convictions because their lawyers messed up. There was a series of cases where drunk drivers claimed showing breath test refusal rules on a computer is not the same as “in writing.” The court disagreed. The list goes on.
No landmarks here, just a court trying to untangle disputes brought to their doorstep by Iowans seeking solutions and resolutions. Luckily for them, we still pick judges based on their skill and mastery of the law, not on their ability to pass some political litmus test.
You can vote however you want on retention and convention. You can keep these justices on the job, handling all the legal curveballs Iowans throw. Or you can fire them for a single controversial call.
Either way, we’ll get the courts we deserve.
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