Voters vs. the Courts

mormon familyAs of summer, 2010, no U.S. state had decided in favor of gay marriage rights through a popular vote of the people — the five states and District of Columbia that allow gay marriage do so after decisions of the courts.  In every state where gay marriage has been put on the ballot, voters have chosen to uphold traditional marriage.  Now the people of Iowa feel they may have some leverage on judges that make policy decisions that are unpopular — remove them from their posts.  A campaign is afoot to unseat the three Iowa judges who unanimously decided to allow gay marriage in a socially conservative state.

“We need to vote them off the bench to send a message across Iowa that we, the people, still have the power,” said Bob Vander Plaats, a Republican politician who is spearheading the campaign. “Not only will it send a message here in Iowa, but it will send a message in California, in Arizona and across the country that the courts have really taken on too much power.” [1]

Some legal experts say it is wrong to punish judges for an unpopular decision.  Not all states have judicial elections.  Iowa is among those states that enable voters to vote periodically to retain judges, who are appointed through a merit system.  Very few judges fail to be retained when elections come around.  Ousting the Iowa judges would not change the ruling to allow gay marriage in Iowa, but it would send a message to judges who go against the will of the people, that their jobs are no longer secure.  The Iowa campaign taps into growing “concern over judicial activism and government overreach.”