Same-sex marriage became legal in Iowa following a unanimous decision of the Iowa Supreme Court interpreting the Iowa state constitution. On Tuesday, three Iowa Supreme Court justices were removed from office in a retention election
. There were no allegations of any misconduct or impropriety on the part of these justices. The campaign to remove these justices was due to their voting for a decision to legalize same-sex marriage in Iowa. Elections are an exercise of the popular majority will. One of the crucial purposes of an independent court system is to protect people, or minorities who may lack political power or may be unpopular. Recall the early victories in the civil rights movements in the 1950s and 1960s. Integration of schools did not begin because voters decided it was a good idea but because courts - ultimately the U.S. Supreme Court, ruled that segregation violated the United States Constitution. Federal judges are appointed for life and are never subjected to such popular votes. It is not hard to imagine that if the Supreme Court in 1954 had been forced to submit to retention elections, the advancement of civil rights might have been a lot more difficult.
While most judicial retention elections are ho-hum affairs in which nearly all judges are retained, what happened this week in Iowa shows the danger to liberty when the majority has the power to remove judges because they make unpopular rulings, even if well supported by law.