Rekha Basu: So much for the old civics rules

Posted by Rekha Basu on

"Iowa has been giving the country an odd civics lesson, one that seems to defy the rules you learned in school about honoring the respective roles of branches of government, and keeping religion and politics out of the judicial process.

"It starts with the twisted premise that if you don't like a particular ruling of the state's top court, whether for political, religious or personal reasons, it's appropriate to tamper with the constitution and the judicial selection and retention process. Here are some ways political leaders unhappy with the Iowa Supreme Court ruling on the freedom to marry have found to dig in their heels, shake their heads and say, 'I'm not listening':

- Vilify the justices who issued it. Call them out of touch with the public. Campaign to unseat them through a retention vote intended for addressing serious judicial or personal misconduct. Heeding conservative leader Bob Vander Plaats' call, Iowans voted out all three justices up for retention.

- Call on the other four in the unanimous ruling - who don't come up for retention for several years - to resign. ... But even if such interference with judicial independence were not a problem, what about that pesky document guiding incoming justices' rulings?

- Call for changing the constitution (thereby acknowledging the ruling had a valid constitutional basis). But what if the person whose job it is to decide whether the Legislature should vote on that declines?

- Call him a 'dictator,' as Gov.-elect Terry Branstad accused Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal of being.

- Aim to hire only judges who share your opposition to marriage equality. Both Vander Plaats and Rod Roberts, as primary candidates for governor, flatly stated they'd only appoint judges who oppose the freedom to marry. Branstad says he won't specifically ask views on that, but does want candidates to agree the court overstepped its bounds with the ruling. So much for judges' independence.

- Propose changing the judicial selection process, as Branstad now is. And how could he not criticize it since it was he, under that process, who appointed the outgoing chief justice as well as the author of the marriage ruling? In the meantime, he'd instruct the current nominating commission to recognize voters 'want a change in the philosophy of the court.' Is that even legal?

- Sue to prevent seven members of the judicial nominating commission from having a hand in selecting the next justices, as some conservatives backed by a national group decided to do.

- Warn outgoing Gov. Chet Culver - as Branstad and Vander Plaats have - not to plan to fill the three justice posts before leaving office.

"And let's not forget Vander Plaats' idea as a candidate to undo the marriage ruling by executive order. Or Roberts' to strong-arm the Legislature into voting to change the constitution by holding the budget hostage.

"Yes, marriage for same-sex couples takes getting used to. But you don't get to interfere with the separation of powers or of church and state because a ruling goes against your religious or political beliefs. To tailor all these legally questionable efforts to undoing one ruling that didn't undermine anyone's well being is both a bad case of petulance and a bad civics lesson. The incoming governor and other leaders should leave it alone and get on with solving the state's real problems."

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