Scenes from the judge hunt

Todd Dorman
Published: September 25 2012 | 3:20 pm - Updated: 1 April 2014 | 12:58 am in
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I think both sides of the dueling judicial retention vote no/vote yes tours that stopped at Greene Square Park in downtown Cedar Rapids left happy. Astounding, I know.

The Iowa Bar Association's "Yes Iowa Judges" tour, which, it turns out, has a truck, not a bus, drew about 150 enthusiastic people at midday. Impressive.

A little later, Bob Vander Plaats and his "No Wiggins" bus mates got heckled. And they couldn't have been happier.

"I love this stuff," a very smiley Vander Plaats said to some members of the audience, just after his remarks were repeatedly interrupted by a handful of folks left over from the vote yes rally. "It helps us."

The heckling did help sprinkle some much-needed spice on an otherwise warmed-over message that drew a smallish crowd, maybe a couple dozen people. Without the audience interjections, which, at one point, prompted a police officer to patiently urge the crowd to show some respect, this would have been, mostly, the same shtick we've heard before.

They remain outraged by the justices' unanimous 2009 ruling striking down the ban on same-sex marriage. They insist it's an unconstitutional overstep. They tossed three justices in 2010. They want to toss out Justice David Wiggins this fall. And they're on a bus. Lather, rinse, repeat, but don't retain.

Former Republican National Committeewoman from Iowa, Kim Lehman, argued that the justices, including Wiggins, somehow violated their code of conduct by extending equal protection under the law to same-sex couples.

Tamara Scott, a conservative activist with Concerned Women of Iowa, pointed to Wiggins' sluggish 63-percent approval rating from members of the Iowa Bar Association. So I guess those ratings matter now. They didn't seem to back in 2010, when BVP, etc., crusaded against three justices who scored in the 70s and 80s.

"This is not personal," said Scott, standing beneath three-foot tall letters spelling out "Wiggins" on the side of a huge bus. He's the only judge among the 74 on the ballot being targeted for removal.

"We're thrilled to be in Cedar Rapids. This is democracy at work," said Vander Plaats, who later lauded judges in Hawaii for keeping gay marriage illegal.

"Drive the bus there," a heckler yelled.

"Equal protection, Bob. Read the Constitution," another shouted.

Yeah, that would be nice. But what's less nice is heckling the No-ers after they allowed the Yes forces to rally unmolested. I understand the passions involved, but allowing people to speak is not an endorsement of their views.

The Vote Yes event was a far better organized and more spirited event than I anticipated from the torts and writs crowd. Christine Branstad, a Des Moines attorney and niece of the governor, made a forceful argument for shielding the courts from the pressures of electoral politics, with its big money contributions and paybacks.

"We have judges who have earned their way into our system," said Branstad, before describing the work of an unnamed Supreme Court justice who has a child on her child's swim team. "I see him sitting in the basement of the YMCA, reading briefs," she said. "He's not making phone calls to (raise money). He's not kissing babies..."

"You don't have to give money to a campaign to have a fair shot in our courts," Branstad said.

So I guess one Branstad in Iowa with a law degree isn't afraid to have an opinion on this issue.

Before the rallies, I ran into Kate Varnum and her 11-month old son Alex. Kate and Trish, married in 2009, were lead plaintiffs in the landmark case that led to all this rallying. He is very cute. His family is very busy, like a lot of us.

I'm glad I saw them, especially today. It's just nice to know at least some people involved in this saga have actually moved on.

 

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