The Judiciary, Presbyterianism, and Office

“The Office,” USA Version.
(I loathed Michael Scott)

We’ll start today’s post with a quiz.   Guess whom – by name or role – was interviewed for  the following:

. . . [he] vows he won’t stand quietly by if opponents of same-sex marriage launch a potent campaign . . . “If someone wants to attack me, I’m not going to let them bully me,” . . . “If asked to, I’ll speak up for myself. The others didn’t do that last time. I will.”

You gave reasonable answers if you thought the interviewee was a politician or activitist, so you would be reasonably wrong.  On the other hand, if you answered with “David Wiggins” or “a judge,” you are correct, and unfortunately so.  That’s Justice Wiggins of the Iowa Supreme Court, bracing for a possible campaign against his retention vote.

When it comes its judiciary, Iowa doesn’t do things quite like the federal government. Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States are appointed for as long as they wish to remain in office.  In Iowa they are appointed but are thereafter subject to retention votes by the citizens of Iowa.  Such votes are typically routine.  Sure, 40% of the voters might blindly vote against all judges, but it took a scandal to take out a district court judge and it was pretty much a given that Supreme Court judges would be retained. Then came Varnum v. Brien legalizing gay marriage and the 2010 elections in which three judges were removed from the Iowa Supreme Court.

So, even though voter anger typically subsides over time, it’s understandable if Justice Wiggins is a little wary of the next retention vote.  But be careful, because there’s something bigger at stake than you, Justice Wiggins.  It’s your “office.”

Presbyterians should have an appreciation for office.  We all understand a few basic ideas, like knowing the preacher while preaching is distinct from that same man who may be a bit grouchy before his morning coffee.  We know that elders are to be respected in their roles whether or not they are our best buddies. And those who are elders should take care to ensure that their actions taken while serving as officers do not tarnish the office in which they serve.

David Baker, one of the judges who was not retained, is on the right track when he says

“Our founding fathers chose wisely to not have judges in a political position,”… “Had we chosen to form campaigns, we would have tacitly admitted that we were what we claimed not to be — politicians. … We strongly believed that the people of Iowa did not want us to be in the position of raising money for a campaign.”

We could argue the merits of whether David Baker or the other two judges should have been removed, but we should all appreciate that they refused to politicize their judicial offices.  That kind of restraint is a committment to the integrity of the judiciary and its proper role in our system. We can only hope that Justice Wiggins, contrary to the tone of his above interview, will likewise exhibit judicial temperament and preserve the integrity of his office.

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