A Christian conservative group, Iowa for Freedom, is campaigning to remove Wiggins from the bench because of his vote in a unanimous 2009 decision overturning the state’s ban on same-sex marriage. The cause has drawn two figures not normally interested in the workings of a state court system: former senator Rick Santorum (Pa.), winner of the 2012 Iowa presidential caucuses, and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal — both possible Republican presidential contenders in 2016.
“I didn’t come here for any reason other than to encourage the people of Iowa to do what you do so well,” Santorum said. “And that is to speak loudly to the country.”
Welcome to round two of the fight over the Iowa court. In a campaign launched in 2010, conservative activists unseated three of the seven jurists who ruled that the state’s Defense of Marriage Act violated the equal-protection clause of Iowa’s constitution. Organizers called their effort, backed by national conservative groups that contributed nearly $1 million, a warning to “activist” judges seeking to “legislate from the bench.”
Their success stunned the legal community and deepened concerns about the injection of money and politics into courthouses. Judges in Alaska, Colorado, Illinois and Kansas faced similar retention fights in 2010, although only in Iowa did the jurists lose their jobs.
This year in Florida, a group with tea party ties and super-PAC support is seeking to oust three judges on the state Supreme Court who refused to allow a ballot measure opposing a key provision in President Obama’s health-care plan.
Wiggins has declined interview requests, breaking his silence once, in a September op-ed in the Des Moines Register, in which he decried the politicization of the courts.
“As a judge, I cannot be motivated other than to follow the law where it leads me,” he wrote. “As a judge, I am not here to say what is right or wrong. I am here to figure out what a statute means and uphold a person’s rights guaranteed by the constitution.”
This time, however, the campaign against the court may be up against greater odds. Voter attention is focused elsewhere. And with pro-gay-marriage initiatives on ballots in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota and Washington, interest-group money is limited. Anti-Wiggins spending to date totals less than $250,000, according to state filings. That includes $100,000 from the National Organization for Marriage and $25,000 from Santorum’s group, Patriot Voices.
Perhaps most significant is the softening attitude toward gay marriage, now legal in five other states and the District.