Iowa GOP wants to oust Supreme Court justice

Wiggins one of seven Iowa judges who participated in 2009 same-sex marriage ruling

Justice David Wiggins asks a question as the Iowa Supreme Court listened to oral arguments in the Varnum v. Brien case,
Justice David Wiggins asks a question as the Iowa Supreme Court listened to oral arguments in the Varnum v. Brien case, Tuesday, Dec. 9, 2008. (John Gaps III/The Des Moines Register)

DES MOINES — Gay marriage dominated Iowa political talk Wednesday sparked by state GOP Chairman A.J. Spiker’s call to Republicans to oust Iowa Supreme Court Justice David Wiggins in November.

Spiker’s call to the party faithful came on the same day same-sex marriage opponents showed up at Chick-fil-A restaurants across the country in support of the chain’s president whose anti-gay-marriage views became the subject of controversy in recent weeks.

Spiker announced the recall effort in an email Wednesday that said, “Just as Iowans successfully showed in 2010, it is again time to put a check on this power and reign in an activist judge from his position of misused authority … This is the only chance voters have to make their voice heard and we must take the opportunity to remove Justice David Wiggins from his post and show him his arrogance and disregard for the law does indeed have consequences.”

In a statement Wednesday, Wiggins said he stood behind all of his decisions on the court.

“Our system is built on checks and balances between independent branches of government. Two of the branches are designed to be political. It is unfortunate that Mr. Spiker apparently thinks that all three branches should be political,” he said. “I have always viewed the role of the judiciary as limited, and I am proud of my work in writing opinions and helping resolve the issues that are brought before the court.”

In November 2010, voters removed three sitting Iowa Supreme Court justices who had joined the unanimous opinion that legalized same-sex marriage in the state by voting “no” for their retention on the ballot. That effort was largely organized by the Family Leader, a conservative Christian group headed by Sioux City businessman Bob Vander Plaats. Wiggins is the only judge who took part in the opinion who is up for retention this November.

Megan Stiles, spokeswoman for the Iowa GOP, said Spiker’s announcement was not coordinated with the Family Leader, although the party does “expect other groups in Iowa to get involved. We just felt that taking a stand on this issue was the right thing to do.”

Chris Larimer, a political scientist at the University of Northern Iowa, said the move was “absolutely an attempt to rally the base” that might not otherwise be enthusiastic about going to polls for presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney.

“Consider two types of voters: A devoted Republican may vote for Romney and ‘no’ on Justice Wiggins, and a right-leaning independent may vote for Romney but ‘yes’ on Justice Wiggins,” he said. “It will be interesting to see whether right-leaning independents, or independents who favor Romney, are willing to move away from Romney because of their party’s stance on gay marriage.”

A Pew Research poll released Tuesday showed increasing support among Democrats and independents for allowing same-sex couples to marry and more support among younger people in general since 2008. The poll showed about two-thirds of Democrats favor allowing same-sex couples to marry, while just more than half of independents do and about a quarter of Republicans do as of July 2012.

“I find it a little disappointing that this is what the state party wants to focus on,” said Josh Byrnes, a Republican state representative from Osage.

Byrnes said his views on same sex marriage — he does not oppose it — changed after he found out that a friend from high school married a same-sex partner and adopted children.“He and his partner have been great parents, probably better than a lot of others out there,” Byrnes said. “My phone hasn’t been ringing off the hook about same-sex marriage. Look, I respect their opinions on it, but the constituents I talk to want to talk about education and the economy.”

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