May 14, 2012
By Scottie Thomaston
Back in 2009, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled in Varnum v. Brien that same-sex marriage is legal in the state, as the legislative ban violates the equal protection clause in the state’s constitution. Since then, three justices have faced retention votes and have lost, mostly because of an intense right-wing campaign to ouster them following the unanimous decision:
After the 2009 ruling, Iowa voters in November 2010 denied three justices the opportunity to remain on the bench. David Baker, Michael Streit and Marsha Ternus became the first Iowa Supreme Court justices not retained by voters since Iowa adopted a merit selection and retention system for judges in 1962.
The three former justices gained national recognition last week when they accepted the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage award at the Kennedy presidential library in Boston. Bob Vander Plaats, who led the campaign to oust them, called the award “a slap in the face to the people of Iowa” and an incentive to lead more campaigns to boot the other justices who joined the ruling.
Now, Justice David Wiggins will be the next justice facing a retention vote later this year, and he won’t go quietly. He told an Iowa newspaper he isn’t going to let the right-wing bullies intimidate him:
“If someone wants to attack me, I’m not going to let them bully me. If asked to, I’ll speak up for myself. The others didn’t do that last time. I will. [...] The court has sort of changed the way it did business since the last retention vote. We’re more open, we’re more transparent, and we’ve made a huge effort to reach out to the people of Iowa.”
The man leading the right-wing campaign is Bob Vander Plaats, infamous for a marriage pledge for presidential candidates that claimed African American children were better off under slavery, among other things. The National Organization for Marriage itself did a bus tour and a campaign in the state against the justices, and put tons of money into the race:
Justice at Stake, a Washington, D.C.-based watchdog group that opposes special-interest and partisan influences on the courts, estimated in November 2010 that roughly $800,000 had been spent on ousting the Iowa justices. All but $103,000 of that money came from conservative groups such as the National Organization for Marriage, American Family Association, Family Research Council, Campaign for Working Families and Citizens United.
State campaign finance records show the Washington, D.C.-based National Organization for Marriage spent nearly $114,000 in Iowa in the last three months of 2011 alone.
It seems like the justice is ready for this upcoming fight. Given the long list of anti-gay organizations that will inevitably working for his downfall, it’s good to see him prepared to push back.