An unprecedented vote to remove three Iowa Supreme Court justices who were part of the unanimous decision that legalized same-sex marriage in the state was celebrated by conservatives as a popular rebuke of judicial overreach, even as it alarmed proponents of an independent judiciary.This result is appalling to me on two levels.
The most sustained effort to oust judges in this election cycle was in Iowa, where out-of-state organizations opposed to gay marriage, including the National Organization for Marriage and the American Family Association, poured money into the removal campaign. Judges face no opponents in retention elections and simply need to win more yes votes than no votes to go on to another eight-year term. In Iowa, the three ousted justices did not raise campaign money, and they only made public appearances defending themselves toward the end of the election.
The first and most obvious reason for my dismay is that, once again, people have lashed out against marriage equality. I do not now and will not ever understand how depriving me and people like me of equality and legal protection in any way improves the lives of anyone else. The amount of energy and money that goes into making our lives worse makes nobody's lives better, with the possible exception of the demagogues and leeches who make their living fueling this fire.
But a deeper reason for dismay lurks, having little to do with the proximate cause of these judges' dismissal. They lost their jobs for having made an unpopular decision. Judges must be free to make unpopular decisions. That is the entire point of having an unelected, independent judiciary. It exists in no small part to protect the rights of the unpopular against the whims of the majority.
This result does nothing to change the status of marriage equality in Iowa, thanks be to God. It reflects the persistence of a bigoted few to sway the minds of a majority afraid of change. And it makes our country and their state a little bit less free and a little bit more unjust.