An Iowa Supreme Court justice who was among seven justices that ruled unanimously in 2009 to strike down the state’s law banning same-sex marriage won his bid to remain in office on Tuesday.
In a regularly scheduled ballot measure for judges known as a judicial retention election, Justice David Wiggins very narrowly won his eligibility to serve another eight-year term, according to the Associated Press.
The vote came two years after Iowans voted to oust from office three other Supreme Court justices who joined in the 2009 ruling that led to the legalization of same-sex marriage in Iowa.
Similar to the vote to oust the three justices two years ago, the vote on Tuesday to retain Wiggins followed an intense campaign by anti-gay groups that accused him and the other justices of overstepping their role as judges to impose on the state a gay marriage law without the consent of the legislature.
“We see a clear violation of separation of powers where they made law from the bench, they executed law from the bench and they even attempted to amend the [Iowa] Constitution,” Bob Vander Plaats, head of the anti-gay group Family Leader, told the Ames Tribune.
Vander Plaats and others opposed to same-sex marriage have billed the judicial election as a referendum on marriage equality.
A coalition of LGBT and judicial advocacy groups, including the Iowa Bar Association, organized a campaign in support of Wiggins, who announced it would not be appropriate for him as a sitting judge to campaign or raise money in an election.
Donna Redwing, executive director of the statewide LGBT group One Iowa, was among those who campaigned for retaining Wiggins. In a commentary last week in the Ames Tribune, Redwing argued that Family Leader and other groups opposed to same-sex marriage used TV ads and other media to give a false and misleading account of the state Supreme Court’s ruling on the marriage question.
“At One Iowa, we are very clear that the job the justices did with integrity and intelligence was based on equal protection and not, as Mr. Vander Plaats claims, on creating new legislation,” Redwing stated.
“Let us be very clear: The court did not create new law, they struck down a marriage ban as unconstitutional,” she said. “They didn’t create legislation; they ruled that existing legislation violated the equal protection clause in our Constitution.”
The anti-gay National Organization for Marriage, which provided funding for the campaign against Wiggins, has vowed to push for the ouster of all seven of the justices that ruled to overturn the state’s ban on same-sex marriage.
Officials with legal organizations and the state’s law schools have said the Iowa Legislature adopted legislation in the early 1960s to hold the judicial retention elections as a means of ousting judges for corruption or improper conduct. The elections were not intended to remove judges for handing down court rulings that people disagree with, the officials have said.
Under Iowa law, the governor appoints judges from a list of nominees sent to him or her by a nonpartisan judicial nominating commission. All judges must come before voters in a retention election after their first year in office. If retained by the voters, they are cleared for an eight-year term after which they must come before the voters following each eight-year term.
Fred Sainz, vice president of communications for the Human Rights Campaign said HRC contributed $130,000 and raised another $20,000 for the campaign in support of Wiggins.
“In Iowa, the opponents of equality again attempted to politicize the state’s independent judiciary by launching an aggressive campaign to remove Justice David Wiggins,” Sainz told the Blade. “This sets a dangerous precedent of intimidation that strikes at the very root of our nation’s independent judiciary.”