Iowa's Nov. 2 general election ballot poses this question: "Shall the following judges be retained in office?" Then it lists the names of three justices on the seven-member Iowa Supreme Court.
This is by far the most important question in this year's election. Voters will determine who will be governor for the next four years. They will determine who will serve in the Iowa Legislature and in Congress over the next several years. But, in this election, the voters will determine the fate of Iowa's judiciary for a much longer time. The question is whether Iowa's judges will remain independent or be subjected to the mutable forces of popular opinion.
A lavishly funded media campaign, complete with TV commercials and automated phone calls, has been waged to persuade Iowa voters to fire the three Iowa Supreme Court justices standing for retention.
The point is not that any of the three is incompetent or unworthy to serve on the bench because of personal or professional shortcomings. Rather, the campaign is the work of people who oppose the court's unanimous April 2009 decision that Iowa's law denying marriage to same-sex partners violated the Iowa Constitution.
A law that conflicts with the constitution cannot be enforced. That is the constitution's explicit command. Thus, the 1998 state law limiting marriage to a man and a woman could no longer be enforced. That meant the benefits of marriage granted by the state to opposite-sex couples must be extended to gay and lesbian couples - by the state, though not necessarily by churches.