Thursday, November 4, 2010

From my Toy Box to the Soapbox...

I know that by now, two days after election day, you are (like me) extremely tired of hearing the political banter, comments, and stories. You are probably still recovering from spending two days seeing nothing but red and blue! And you are probably thankful (like me) that you can now listen to the radio and watch TV without being subjected to the ads and smear campaigns.

So, the last thing I wanted to do was blog today about politics. BUT…

When we started this blog, I promised myself that I would blog about whatever is on my mind for that day or week, no matter how important or insignificant the topic is. I realize that because my kids are always at the forefront of my thoughts you normally get such “riveting” topics from me such as Wal-Mart complaints, what is brewing in my crock pot, and tales of Blackberry bandits. But, today I have something much larger on my mind. So if you will please allow me for a moment to step off my toy box and onto a soapbox...

I am normally not one to get into politics. I mean let’s face it the only “donkey” and “elephant” in my life are Eeyore and Dumbo! Although I am a proud Democrat and keep up the best I can on political issues, I don’t really participate in the political process (outside of voting of course). But, every now and then an issue comes up that I really get behind or upset about and that happened this year.

I live in Iowa and practice law in both Iowa and Illinois. In Iowa, our Supreme Court Justices are appointed through “merit selection”. Briefly, for my out of state readers, merit selection begins with a nominating commission of fifteen citizens, a chair who is the senior associate justice, seven of whom are non-attorneys appointed by the governor, and seven of whom are attorneys elected by attorneys. Iowans for Fair and Impartial Courts, website. When there is a vacancy on the court, judicial applicants submit their applications to this nominating commission, the commission reviews the applications, and then nominates the top two or three most qualified individuals. Iowans for Fair and Impartial Courts, website. The governor makes the final decision on who to appoint. Once a judge is on the bench, regularly they are placed the general election ballot for a retention election where the citizens decide whether that judge should retain their seat. Iowans for Fair and Impartial Courts, website.

The merit selection process is designed to keep politics out of our courtrooms. Essentially, the judges don’t have to fear about the decisions they make because they are not elected officials. They can simply apply the law and Constitution without the giant elephant (or donkey) in the room. In my opinion, this is how justice should be. They say “justice is blind” right? So this “blindness” should mean we will not stand for politics invading our justice system.

But Tuesday, I sadly learned my opinion is in the minority in my state. This election, three Iowa Supreme Court justices lost their seats in the retention election. The justices’ removal marked the first time an Iowa Supreme Court justice has not been retained since 1962, when the merit selection and retention system for judges was adopted. Des Moines Register, 11/3/10. This decision was “a historic upset fueled by [the Iowa Supreme Court’s] 2009 decision that allowed same-sex couples to marry”. Des Moines Register, 11/3/10. In 2009, the Iowa Supreme Court declared that the law banning same sex-marriages violated the constitution’s equal protection rights of gay and lesbian couples that wish to marry. Des Moines Register, 11/3/10.

Now, although I respect them, I don’t care about your opinions on same-sex marriage. I understand it is a hot topic in our time and there are adamant voices on both sides of the fence. So, I’m not here to argue the merits of the 2009 decision by the Court or whether same-sex marriage should be allowed. But I want a justice system that ignores the political banter and makes decisions based on the law, not the beliefs of Americans. To boot three justices off of the Iowa Supreme Court because they interpreted the Constitution and ruled the same-sex marriage ban was unconstitutional makes no sense to me.

What this vote means is that now instead of ensuring their opinions and rulings are based on the law and Constitution the justices are always going to think in the back of their heads: “Wait, what is the public going to think of this? Am I going to lose my job if I affirm or reverse this decision?”

I think what angers me the most about this decision is the fact that as a lawyer I am subject all the time to lawyer jokes, comments about how our justice system is flawed, etc. Yes, our justice system is not perfect, but its decisions like this that allow it to become this way. Being a Supreme Court Justice should not be a popularity contest…its about following the letter of the law and not worrying about what others think.

I wonder how many Iowans really knew the effect of this vote when they filled in those circles on their ballot. I wonder if they knew that what they were doing was going to damage our judicial system. They are taking our fair and impartial courts and turning them into just another political playground. And in case you are curious just how much politics played a role in this decision: Groups that wanted the justices out poured more than $650,000 into their efforts with heavy support from out-of-state conservative and religious groups. Des Moines Register, 11/3/10.

When I found out about this historic decision, I looked at my kids and wondered what the face of the judicial system will look like when they are adults. I don’t want them growing up with a judicial system that is more concerned with what is popular than what fits the letter of the law.

Thanks for letting me vent…now down off my soapbox and back on my toy box I’ll go. I know this blog post was much more serious than I normally post, so just so you know it is actually me that is writing this…the crayons that replaced the pens in my briefcase today were peach!

And I hope this goes without saying, but this post contains my thoughts and feelings on this subject thought here is meant to convey the thought of any other JD Mom but myself!


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