The Iowa Supreme Court justice whose name will be on the 2012 ballot in Iowa’s next retention election spoke publicly tonight about this year’s election in which three of his colleagues were voted off the court, but Justice David Wiggins said nothing about his own prospects two years from now.
“Although I am disappointed with the results of the last retention election, I am not going to second-guess its results. It is what it is,” Wiggins said. “…It’s now time for the court move on.”
Wiggins was the speaker at a forum organized by the Iowa chapter of the American Constitution Society.
“It’s nice to get out among people again after the election,” Wiggins said to open his remarks. “At the court it’s a strange atmosphere, but we’re doing well.”
Chief Justice Marsha Ternus and Justices David Baker and Michael Streit will leave the court at the end of the year. Critics waged a successful campaign to unseat those justices after the court issued a unanimous opinion that paved the way for gay marriage in Iowa. Wiggins, who told tonight’s crowd he’s known the three justices for about a quarter of a century, offered a brief defense of the trio.
“Each and every one of them are an extremely intelligent person and persons of exceptional integrity,” Wiggins said. “In meeting with the court we sit down every so often — about every two weeks — and talk about cases that are circulating and discuss our views, and I’ve never at any time experienced any one of these individuals trying to decide a case on their personal views, but rather attempting to decide the case based on the framework of the lawand the constitution — and as everybody knows, that’s what our oath requires us to do.”
Wiggins was a trial lawyer for 27 years before his appointment to the Iowa Supreme Court in 2003, and he spent a couple of minutes tonight comparing Iowa judges — who are appointed by the governor — to judges in other states who are elected by voters.
“I can tell you by personal experience — and I could talk for hours about some of the stories — but when appearing in other jurisdictions in other states, I do see the difference in the quality of judges. I do see the difference on how you approach a judge because of campaign finance and other things,” Wiggins said. “Those are considerations you have to take into account when you’re in a state where judges are elected.”
Wiggins and the other three justices who will remain on the court in 2011 earlier today announced they’ve chose their colleague Mark Cady to be the interim chief justice, starting January 1. Cady had been the leader of the Judicial Nominating Commission that will submit candidates to the governor to fill the openings on the court. Wiggins will take over that role in January.
“It will be an orderly process. I know that the commission is going to do their job and they’re going to send the best-possible candidates to the governor,” Wiggins said during the hour-long forum. “…I’m also confident that the governor will select the best persons to fill these positions.”
While Wiggins did not speak about his own retention election in 2012, a spokesman for an advocacy group for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Iowans, did. One Iowa spokesman Troy Price told tonight’s crowd it’s time to prepare to “hit back” at those who’ll be campaigning for Wiggins removal from the court.
“While it’s unfortunate we are now entering a period where the courts have been unduly politicized…we have to stand ready. We have to take all threats seriously,” Price said. “And we have to defend the members of the courts who have taken courageous positions in their current roles.”
Most of those in tonight’s audience were lawyers, but the event was open to the public. Wiggins declined to answer questions from reporters once the panel discussion was over.