Order and Disorder in the Court

Polk County Courthouse, Des Moines, IA

The job of a judge is to determine if a law was broken, interpret what is said in the code of law, and to uphold order and adjudicate whether a crime was committed or not.

For the most part, judges have to be impartial.  Sadly, sometimes a few of them make the choice to use their political beliefs and sully the reputation of judges who actually do a great and difficult job.

It’s with this in mind, I feel that Bob Vander Plaats‘ (BVP) pursuit of ousting three Iowa Supreme Court justices over Varnum v. Brien is not a viable option.  Why?  Because his crusade is based on an overzealous reaction to the Varnum ruling.  BVP asserts that these “activist” judges were flexing their political ideologies in siding with Varnum in the dispute over allowing gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, and transgendered individuals to marry.

Is Bob Vander Plaats the Don Quixote of the judicial system?

The justices in question (Martha Ternus, David Baker, and Michael Streit) did not exude arrogance by ruling in favor of Varnum.  Nor did they instituted their ideologies, be political or personal, into the ruling.  Their job is to interpret the ruling to the best of what the law has in place.

This was a legal decision.  Not an emotional decision or a decision to make a political statement.

Of course that brings us to the Cityview “Civic Skinny” article about Judge Mark Bennett.  Bennett, a federal judge for the Northern District of Iowa for the Sioux City courthouse, reportedly has been getting “lippy” and “flippant” with prosecutors and defense attorneys up there.  The problem is that he doesn’t have to face a retention election for he is a federal judge.

Vincent Gambini thinks that Judge Bennett needs to check himself, if the allegations of his behavior is true. The “yutes” would not be pleased.

Maybe VanderPlaats should probably spend his efforts making sure that loose cannons like Bennett doesn’t sully or put judges under a bad light.

Not by mounting a campaign to vote them out.

My suggestion is to jettison the retention voting for judges.  Judges are not elected to preside on the bench.  They are recommended by a committee and nominated to serve by a governor or the President.   Secondly, establish an independent judicial review board for judges.  This board should be charged with reviewing possible misconduct on the bench, as in the alleged case of Judge Bennett.

Perry Mason would agree that judges, for the most part, are impartial. Click to watch and listen to one of the best openings in TV history.

Also, conduct reviews of any major decision if there is a hint of political influence.  Yes, judges do have their political leanings and opinions.  With that said, when they walk into a courthouse, those beliefs are to be left outside.

If there is already a judicial review panel board in place here in Iowa, then utilize them more.

One side of my brain thinks that Vander Plaats is doing whatever he can to stay in front of this election cycle by mounting a Don Quixote-like crusade over one major ruling so significant, it made states like California do a double take.  Another side of my brain also feels that if BVP and Varnum didn’t become a major topic in this state, no one would have any interest to this retention election.  Admit it, you wouldn’t even know about it, unless you were an election geek.

Historically, all but four judges since the retention election component was instituted in 1962 have been retained without any big hangups.


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