Q: I live in Iowa, and in the days leading up to the election remember seeing a bus with the slogan “No Wiggins” campaigning against the Supreme Court justice. I hear opponents of equality talking about “activist judges.” What are we doing in response?
A: In 2009, the Iowa Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision in Lambda Legal’s lawsuit Varnum v. Brien, striking down Iowa’s marriage ban and extending the freedom to marry to same-sex couples. In response, anti-gay groups like the National Organization for Marriage and the American Family Association decided to take their anger out on the courts. In 2010, these groups spent nearly $1 million on a series of attack ads and a misleading bus tour in order to punish the justices for ruling against their extreme agenda. In the end, this mean-spirited campaign succeeded in defeating three well-respected justices during a routine judicial retention election.
In 2012, opponents of the freedom to marry came together again in another well-funded attempt to unseat the fourth justice from the Varnum decision, David Wiggins. The effort was spearheaded by failed gubernatorial candidate Bob Vander Plaats and consisted of a “No Wiggins” bus tour, which featured guest appearances from the likes of former Sen. Rick Santorum and the governor of Louisiana, Bobby Jindal. The campaign urged voters to throw out “activist judges” for doing the very thing that judges are supposed to do — decide tough cases and uphold constitutional rights, even if those decisions may not be politically popular.
But this time the wheels came off their anti-gay bus! On Election Day, voters rejected the politicization of their courts by retaining Justice Wiggins. By rejecting this assault on justice and attempt to intimidate judges, the people of Iowa demonstrated to the nation how to stand up and protect the system designed to preserve our cherished rights and liberties.
For the LGBT community, courts resolve cases on fundamental issues that affect us all — our family life, employment and housing protections, access to health care, parenting rights — all of which can have long-lasting effects. Lambda Legal works every day in state courts around the nation and has first-hand knowledge of just how important it is to have issues decided by fair and impartial judges who make decisions based on the law, facts and arguments presented in each case without fear of a
Protecting our system of fair and impartial courts is imperative in our journey to equality. Learn how to spot judicial attacks and what you can do to defend fair courts by downloading our tool kit “Gear Up! A Fair Courts Toolkit for Everyday Advocates” at www.lambdalegal.org/publications/gear-up.
Eric Lesh is the Fair Courts Project manager for Lambda Legal, the national organization that works to secure full civil rights for LGBT people.