Judge hunting season opens

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Judging by the buses, it must be judge-hunting season in Iowa again.

There’s the “No Wiggins” bus, filled with folks hoping to oust Supreme Court Justice David Wiggins, mainly because he joined the unanimous 2009 ruling striking down Iowa’s ban on same-sex marriage. It started rolling Monday with former Pennsylvania senator and belated, but official, Iowa caucus winner Rick Santorum on board.

On Wednesday, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal joins in. According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Iowa has the 10th-best legal climate in the nation. Louisiana is 49th. So I’m not exactly sure why we would want Jindal's advice on dispensing justice.

Then we have the “Yes Iowa Judges” bus, backed by the Iowa Bar Association. It’s shadowing the No Wiggins tour starting today to argue that he and the other 73 judges/justices on the ballot should be retained.

Both buses make their way to Cedar Rapids this morning. No Wiggins will, no doubt, serve up plenty of red meat about activist, freedom-stealing, robed tyrants. The Bar Association will likely be a touch more subdued.

“Our biannual Judicial Performance Evaluation Review of the 74 judges up for retention this year demonstrated that all are well-qualified in the areas important to fair and impartial administration of justice,” said Cynthia Moser, president of the association.

That’s some battle cry. And there’s a part of me that snorts at bringing a briefcase to a knife fight.

But we should take comfort in the button-down, evidence-based wonkishness of the case for the defense. It’s really our last line of defense between the courts we have and the cartoonish legal circus the No Wiggins tribe desires, where equal protection under the law is afforded only to those who scream loudest and write the fattest checks.

After three justices were bounced in 2010, I watched the process for picking their replacements closely. And although the process and outcome were not perfect, what I saw were dozens of honorable, well-qualified judges and attorneys line up to fill the breach. In their public interviews, I heard people who take the law, the courts’ job in applying and interpreting it, and judicial independence, seriously. The judge hunters fired their best shots, but the Supreme Court, though dented, was not permanently damaged.

So maybe Wiggins gets picked off, and maybe he survives. But, either way, the wise merit selection system approved by Iowans 50 years ago remains in tact, and quality candidates will rise through it.

Oh, and marriage equality remains the law of the land. Sorry, judge hunters.

Passionate partisans can climb on buses, but, thankfully, I doubt they’ll climb to the Supreme Court.


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