Targeted justice says judges aren't spurred by political agendas

Wiggins speaks at Peoples Church in Cedar Rapids

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CEDAR RAPIDS — Iowa Supreme Court Justice David Wiggins believes Iowa is above politicizing its court system.

Wiggins is facing a Nov. 6 retention vote to keep his job. Like three of his former colleagues in 2010, he’s being targeted by conservatives who want him removed from the bench for having taken part in the court’s unanimous 2009 ruling that paved the way for same-sex civil marriage in Iowa. He spoke Sunday to about 40 people at Peoples Church Unitarian Universalist in Cedar Rapids.

Wiggins emphasized that the role of the judiciary is to interpret state laws and the Iowa Constitution, ensuring that people’s constitutional rights are upheld. That includes the right to equal protection under the law, which was the cornerstone of court’s marriage decision.

“The judicial branch does not have an agenda,” he said. “We do not go out and find cases we want to hear. We don’t find issues we want to decide. That’s not our role.”

Wiggins said justices have two jobs: to interpret the laws passed by the Legislature, and to make sure the Legislature doesn’t pass any laws that would violate a guaranteed constitutional right. He emphasized that justices do not make policy, and they don’t allow personal opinions to sway their decisions.

“When we interpret laws passed by the Legislature, people have a misconception of what we do,” Wiggins said. “We don’t sit there and say, ‘This is what the law should be.’ We don’t take the words of the Legislature and morph them into what the law should be under our own personal view.

“The number one rule in deciding what a statute means is to figure out what the legal intent was when (legislators) passed the law.”

And the judicial branch seeks to protect the constitutional rights of all people, he added — not just those who share the majority opinion.

The Rev. Tom Capo said he invited Wiggins to speak at Peoples Church to put a human face on the retention issue.

“I think that it’s important for our community to have the opportunity to meet the justices and that way they can realize that these are people,” Capo said. “Not some horrible object that’s done terrible things to the state or whatever kind of idea people have about it.”

The Family Leader, a socially conservative political organization, says Wiggins shouldn’t be retained, calling him an activist judge who legislated from the bench to redefine marriage.

Wiggins said he has not actively campaigned to keep his seat because doing so would politicize the court system and lead to a distrust of the judiciary.

“When you start asking people for money, you start owing people favors,” he said. “That type of system breeds corruption, and Iowa is better than that.”

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