By Christopher Rants
I remember the day Chuck Hurley, president of the Iowa Family Policy Center (precursor to the Iowa FAMiLY Leader), visited me to talk about the need to pass a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.
Hurley wanted Iowa’s Defense of Marriage Act to be put in the state constitution. Being in state code wasn’t good enough. Based on rulings in other states, it was likely to be overturned. The only way to protect one-man-and-one-woman marriage was to put it in the Iowa Constitution.
He convinced me and we began the process of trying to pass a constitutional amendment — it failed because Republicans in the Iowa Senate couldn’t muster the votes.
Flash forward to today. The FAMiLY Leader, out on its bus tour, would have us believe that our Supreme Court hijacked the Iowa Constitution, usurping the roles of chief executive and Legislature. Justice David Wiggins must go or the republic will fail.
That is not true. That is why I will vote “yes” to retain Justice Wiggins in November.
I didn’t like the decision, but I wasn’t surprised by it. Nor do I think the judges hatched some nefarious plot of judicial activism. Remember, most of the judges were appointees from Gov. Terry Branstad’s first four terms.
I share this story because those who want to toss Justice Wiggins are the same ones who came to me knowing the law wouldn’t stand up to constitutional scrutiny.
Why else put it in the constitution? Every lawyer I talked to who read the briefs submitted to the court told me the law was going to be tossed.
In short, the court did what we expected. Today’s outrage rings hollow.
I don’t support gay marriage. My record in the Legislature and the hate email I’ve gotten from gay rights activists across the country bears that out. But I don’t blame Justice Wiggins and neither should you.
The blame lies with us. We didn’t put it in the Constitution despite ample opportunity. By “we” I mean all of us. There have been three elections since our first attempt and Iowans apparently have chosen to not elect a Legislature to do that.
Two years earlier, Iowa’s flag desecration law was struck down as violating the due process clause of the U.S. Constitution. No one screamed “judicial activism.” The law was flawed. We knew it. So the Legislature wrote a new law to pass constitutional muster and still protect the flag. The system worked.
The Legislature chose not to respond to the court ruling on gay marriage in a similar way. Who is to blame for that? We are. Not Wiggins.
Courts and judges make for easy political foils. They rarely engage in the political shouting match, so they remain defenseless. They don’t buy radio ads explaining their decision, and 99.9 percent of the public doesn’t read their decisions.
Their opponents can say anything no matter how outrageous and they will be impassive. While the notion of unelected positions for life and making decisions in secret rub us wrong, our founders set them up that way to protect us.
That is right. While there are bullies out to score political points attacking them, and make money doing so, the courts are there to protect us from such bullies.
The Legislature can and does make bad laws. Laws that infringe upon our rights. We count on courts to defend us from those overreaching laws. We want those laws struck down.
The last thing we want in Iowa is a court that is engaged in political campaigns, raising money from PACs, and worried about their poll numbers. We especially do not want them responding to threats from bullies.
A Sioux City resident, Christopher Rants is a former Republican state representative and Speaker of the House. He works for Rauschenberger Partners, a Chicago government relations firm, and recently started his own public affairs business. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org