Guest Columnist

Iowa's judiciary must remain independent

The Iowa Judicial Branch building in Des Moines on Wednesday, January 15, 2014. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
The Iowa Judicial Branch building in Des Moines on Wednesday, January 15, 2014. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

Water quality. Education budgets. Health care. Opioid epidemic. Workforce development. Tax cuts. All important, all debated under the Golden Dome and in our not-so-golden homes, all appropriate subjects for a democracy’s discussions.

So how are changes in how Iowa appoints its judges different? Because a truly independent judiciary is one of the “columns of democracy” — institutions without which there is no democracy. The court system was deliberately created by our founders as a non-political institution to check the legislative and executive branches and protect citizens’ constitutional rights.

Turning the judiciary into a third political branch of government is like removing one leg from a three-legged stool. A democracy wobbles, falls, and ultimately dies without the supporting columns of democracy, such as the checks and balances of three branches of government, independent judiciary and media.

Many true conservatives are members of the Federalist Society. They’ve read the Federalist Papers, written by Alexander Hamilton, John Jay and James Madison in 1787 to promote the ratification of the new United States Constitution.

They are familiar with what Hamilton wrote in Federalist 78. All Iowa legislators should read it. Here are some excerpts:

“There is no liberty if the power of judging be not separated from the legislative and executive powers. Liberty can have nothing to fear from the judiciary alone but would have everything to fear from its union with either of the other departments.”

“This independence of the judges is equally requisite to guard the Constitution and the rights of individuals from the effects of … designing men, or the influence of particular [circumstances which] sometimes disseminate among the people themselves, and which, though they speedily give place to better information, and more deliberate reflection, have a tendency, in the meantime, to occasion dangerous innovations in the government, and serious oppressions of the minor party in the community.”

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

“No man can be sure that he may not be tomorrow the victim of a spirit of injustice, by which he may be a gainer to-day. And every man must now feel, that the inevitable tendency of such a spirit is to sap the foundations of public and private confidence, and to introduce in its stead universal distrust and distress.”

“If the power of making [judicial appointments] was committed either to the Executive or legislature, there would be danger of an improper complaisance to the branch which possessed it; if to both, there would be an unwillingness to hazard the displeasure of either.”

It is as if Alexander Hamilton had arisen from the dead and walks among us. He was spotted on stage in Des Moines’ Civic Center last June, and his Federalist 78 speaks to us today as if he wrote it yesterday.

True conservatives, who look to the “original intent” of those who wrote our State and federal constitutions, will resist the current lure of instant additional political advantage. They will read Hamilton’s words over again, understand that without a non-partisan independent judiciary there can be no democracy, and do all in their power to oppose those who would further politicize our courts.

• Nicholas Johnson of Iowa City is a three-time presidential appointee and author of, most recently, “Columns of Democracy.” It will be discussed at Iowa City’s Prairie Lights Books, March 30, 4 p.m. Comments: mailbox@nicholasjohnson.org

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.