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“Now you must raise your children up in a world where that union of man and box turtle is on the same legal footing as man and wife…”
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Posts for September, 2010

Justice O’Connor counters call for “representative” judges

Timothy Kincaid

September 8th, 2010

Following the unanimous decision by the Iowa Supreme Court to protect the equality of gay Iowans, anti-gay activists wailed about “activist” judges and called to replace them with judges who could be reflective of the whim of the majority. Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor attended a forum to oppose that idea. (KETV)

Last month, Republican Bob Vander Plaats started a campaign to unseat three Iowa Supreme Court justices up for reelection.

The move started a debate over whether judges should be elected by popular vote.

O’Connor only spoke for about 10 minutes, but she was emphatic in her belief that appointing judges on a merit-based system as we do in Iowa is a much better option than voting for judges in a political election.

This effort by O’Connor may be seen by Iowans as an indictment of the effort to recall the three judges and a rejection of the current trend of calling every unpopular decision “judicial activism”. Justice O’Connor is a centrist who continues to hold the respect of a broad swath of middle-Americans.

O’Connor to weigh in on judicial process in Iowa

Timothy Kincaid

September 1st, 2010

For 25 years Sandra Day O’Connor’s opinion mattered more than just about anyone in the country. Appointed in 1981 to be the first woman to sit on the Supreme Court, O’Connor was positioned such that half the court was more conservative and half the court was less so. There were very few decisions in which O’Connor was on the losing side and a great many where her judicial thinking determined the course of the nation’s laws.

Upon retiring, O’Connor was asked what she predicted for the court in the 21st Century. The jurist replied that just as matters of race had dominated the court during the 20th Century, the upcoming years would focus on matters of sexual orientation.*

Now, even though she has stepped down from the SCOTUS, O’Connor will be – at least tangentially – addressing same sex marriage.

After the Iowa Supreme Court unanimously found for marriage equality, anti-gay voices have been calling for their heads. Three are up for re-confirmation this year, and there is a campaign to vote them out.

Some argue that the current method of judicial selection – the governor selects from a list of potential jurists who have been vetted by a State Judicial Nominating Committee – leaves judges “unaccountable to the people”. Some, such as conservative Alabama jurist Tom Parker, have gone so far as to argue that Iowa should adopt Alabama’s practice of having their judges run for office and make decisions based on partisan maneuvering and campaign promises rather than on the protections in the state constitution.

That is why it is so important the people insist they be allowed to select those who sit on the bench over them. If judges want to be “super legislators,” then they must stand before their constituents and tell them what they believe about the Constitution as it relates to current public policy debates.

Next week the Iowa State Bar Association will host a panel to discuss judicial appointment, and O’Connor will come to advocate for experience, temperament, and merit as qualifiers rather than populist appeal.

Sandra Day O’Connor will take part in a panel discussion Sept. 8 advocating judge retention based on merits rather than political whim.

O’Connor’s visit next month will be held at Hotel Fort Des Moines. The specifics of the panel discussion, hosted by the Iowa State Bar Association, have not been finalized, said Steve Boeckman, a spokesman for the association, which is one of the hosts of the forum.

“It’s on the merit selection of judges in the state,” Boeckman said. “That’s one of her issues. She’s a proponent of using a merit selection system rather than an election system for judges.”

I don’t know if O’Connor will speak to the wisdom of the court’s decision or even her opinion on the federal constitutionality of anti-gay state amendments. But I find it likely that she will address the campaign to remove the justices from the bench.

And I have to say that I agree with her that the people are best served by having one governmental branch that is not subject to the whim of the latest political trend or the most affluent contributor.

Let’s not forget that “standing before their constituents” may well result in putting Sharron Angle in the US Senate.

* – I’m recalling this from memory, but I cannot, for the life of me, find the interview in which she said this. I would greatly appreciate anyone who has the source.