116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Since the Iowa Supreme Court recognized that equal protection under the law included the right to marry the person you love regardless of sexual orientation, Iowa Republicans have pushed to make Iowa’s judicial branch as partisan as the legislature and governor’s office.
They’ve introduced political campaigning for and against judges, restructured the way we pick judges to include more political appointments by the governor and even changed how the Supreme Court of Iowa operates. Last term, Republicans got their way as the court overturned precedent to strip your right to an abortion.
Historically, the Iowa Constitution has worked to keep partisan politics out of justice. Its framework established a non-partisan panel of attorneys, judges, and appointed members to sift applicants down to the three best qualified candidates and let the governor appoint among them. It was an effective system that lead to the Iowa Supreme Court doing great things — for example, banning racial bias as a basis for court orders and enshrining civil rights.
Sadly, in each of the last three legislative sessions, Republicans have changed the rules to promote more and more partisan politics in the justice system. Finally, after years of breaking down the barriers that have insulated our courts from direct political influence, this past year the governor was able to present three right wing activists to stack the committee that nominates judges to our highest courts. I’m proud to have joined my Senate Democratic colleagues who stood up and said no to the partisan power grab and reject the most political slate of members to the judicial nominating commission I’ve seen in my 24 years in the Iowa Senate.
The Republican Party and their fat cat benefactors have been working to stack the courts for decades. After a series of victories for civil rights, they realized that non-partisan judges would not reliably lead to conservative policies.
Both at the state and national level, the Republican Party has decided that you don’t deserve justice from courts; you deserve their radical remaking of American society. At a national level, with the help of Sen. Chuck Grassley, that entailed blocking all judicial appointments until Republicans controlled the process. In Iowa Republicans have simply only allowed ultra conservatives to choose who may be a judge.
Recent editorials and opinion pieces criticizing both sides for this partisanship miss the mark. Senate Democrats have been able to control one thing in the wake of this partisan takeover of our courts: rejecting a slate of obviously partisan nominees to put the final piece of this plan into operation. You do nothing to defend an apolitical justice system by wagging your finger at Republicans while condemning Democrats for not rubber-stamping those very same activists.
We have an increasingly radical MAGA governor appointing increasingly radical members to select increasingly radical jurists. I will not accept the fiction that a “judicial philosophy” is in any way distinguishable from political affiliation. She packed our courts with partisans, and now it’s open season on our rights and freedoms.
State Sen. Joe Bolkcom is a Democrat from Iowa City.