By The Des Moines Register
Iowa voters drew a line in the sand a half century ago when they approved a constitutional amendment that removed partisan politics from the selection of judges. A.J. Spiker, the chairman of the Iowa Republican Party, crossed that line Wednesday when he issued a statement calling on voters to vote against the retention of Iowa Supreme Court Justice David Wiggins on Nov. 6.
Wiggins is one of seven justices who ruled unanimously in 2008 that Iowa’s Constitution protects the legal rights of all Iowans regardless of their sexual orientation.
Spiker’s statement is a blatant and unprecedented move by a party leader to inject partisan politics back into the judiciary. The amendment to the Iowa Constitution replaced partisan elections of judges with a process where judges are chosen based on their merit. It was a huge step forward in making Iowa’s court system among the most respected in the nation.
On Wednesday, the top officer in the Republican Party invited Iowa voters to take a huge step backward.
“The Republican Party of Iowa believes we must be a state based on laws and not the whims of unelected activist judges attempting to impose their personal views on the public,” Spiker’s statement said. “The people of Iowa are tired of increasingly powerful bureaucrats arrogantly and deceitfully instituting law when they have no justification or ability to do so.”
The statement reads like the sort of screed that is dashed off in a moment of passion but is shredded when better judgment prevails. Spiker had no such second thoughts, however.
It is hard to believe such intemperate and intolerant words would come from the leader of a party that is rightfully proud of its heritage of defending individual liberty in this state going back to the Civil War when Iowans volunteered to fight for liberty for enslaved African-Americans. It is a libel on the Iowa Supreme Court’s heritage of defending the rights of minorities dating back to Iowa’s roots as a U.S. territory.
The statement recklessly throws around words like “arrogantly” and “deceitfully” to undermine the legitimacy of the judicial branch of government. His reference to “whims of unelected activist judges” exposes unvarnished contempt for judges and a fundamental misunderstanding of the role of the courts in a constitutionally divided government like ours.
It is getting particularly tiresome to see the label of “judicial activism” applied to unpopular rulings. It should be clear to all by now that “judicial activism” is in the eye of the beholder and usually describes rulings the person dislikes.
The label was used in 1954 when the U.S. Supreme Court said blacks-only public schools were unconstitutional. It was used in 2000 when the court stepped in to stop the vote recount in Florida and declared George W. Bush president. It was heard in 2008 when the court ruled the Second Amendment protected individual gun owners. It was used in June when the court upheld the health insurance mandate in the Affordable Care Act.
Whether you agree or disagree with those decisions, it would have been wrong to suggest that the judges responsible for them should have been removed from the bench. It is equally wrong to call for punishing Iowa judges for a decision some do not agree with.
You can disagree with the Iowa Supreme Court’s decision without wanting to remove the justices who supported it. Unfortunately the voters did that two years ago by removing three justices who happened to be up for retention that November. That was wrong. Now some people want to repeat the wrong.
Sadly, the leader of the Iowa Republican Party wants the party to lead the charge. We hope other Iowa Republicans who disagree with Spiker’s attack on judicial independence will come forward and say so.