Iowa House conservatives want pay cut for justices in same-sex marriage decision

Proposal would cut pay to $25,000; justices 'trashed separation of powers'

A handful of House conservatives want to reduce the pay of Iowa Supreme Court justices involved in a 2009 decision striking down a ban on same-sex marriages as part of an effort to maintain the balance of power in state government.

“It’s our responsibility to maintain the balance of power” between the three co-equal branches of government, Rep. Tom Shaw, R-Laurens, said Tuesday.

The justices “trashed the separation of powers” with their unanimous Varnum v. Brien decision and implementation of same-sex marriage without a change in state law banning any marriages expect between one man and one woman, added Rep. Dwayne Alons, R-Hull.

Their amendment to House File 120, the judicial branch budget bill, would lower the salaries of the four justices on the seven-member court who were part of the unanimous Varnum v. Brein decision to $25,000 – the same as a state legislator.

It’s not meant to be punitive, Alons and Shaw said Tuesday.

“We’re just holding them responsible for their decision, for going beyond their bounds,” Shaw said.

“It’s not the merits of what they said in that decision,” added Alons. He’s trying to stop “an encroaching wave” of judicial activity including decisions on nude dancing and landowner liability – decisions the Legislature also is trying to correct through legislation this session.

That view is not universally shared.

“How ridiculous can you get?” wondered Senate Judiciary Chairman Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids. Alons, Shaw and three other co-sponsors of House Amendment 1327 misunderstand the role of the court as well as the relationship between the court and the Legislature, he said.

The court routinely interprets state law, Hogg said, and the Legislature is free to pass clarifying language. That’s what is being proposed in the case of nude dancing and landowner liability.

Since the 1803 Marbury v. Madison U.S. Supreme Court decision, however, it’s been left to the courts to interpret the Constitution, Hogg said.

Under the amendment, justices’ salaries would be lowered when voters approve a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

In the meantime, Hogg suggested that a plan to pay justices differently based on their role in one case would be unlikely to withstand a court challenge.“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” Alons said.