Iowa Gay Marriage: State House Threatens to Cut Pro-Equality Supreme Court Justices' Pay By 80%


When you disagree with a person's views harshly, it probably leads to an argument, possible shouting, and in extreme cases, cutting off all contact with the offending person. In Iowa, it apparently instead means that you cut a person's pay. A group of Iowa State House Republicans have filed a measure in the legislature to cut the pay of state Supreme Court Justices by 80%. The catch is that it only applies to the justices that ruled to legalize same-sex marriage in 2009.

The measure was filed on Monday by five state Republicans. The measure is simply called H-1327 and amends Senate File 442. This political stunt only demonstrates that opposition to same-sex marriage has descended into a farce that serves no purpose other than to make our political system look dysfunctional.

The decision that legalized same-sex marriage in Iowa was Varum v. Brein in 2009. Six same-sex couples filed suit in the Polk County District Court, arguing that prior denials of marriage licenses on account of the members of each couple being of the same sex was a violation of rights guaranteed to them under the Iowa Constitution. The court ruled in their favor.

Polk County appealed the case to the Iowa Supreme Court. The court unanimously ruled in favor of same sex marriage, citing the equal protection clause of the Iowa state constitution in their ruling. In one court ruling, same-sex marriage became legal in Iowa.

Bob Vander Plaats, the CEO of the socially conservative advocacy group Family Leader, led a campaign to vote the Iowa Supreme Court justices out of office. In 2010, three of the justices were voted out. However, the subsequent 2012 election saw the one justice up for re-election retain their seat.

This leads us to the current measure in the Iowa state house. The measure states:

"Any justice appointed to the supreme court prior to April 3, 2009, and who remains a justice of the Supreme Court on or after the date the electorate ratifies a constitutional amendment declaring marriage between one man and one woman is the only valid or recognized legal union in this state shall have the salary of the justice reduced in accordance with this section unless the justice resigns immediately."

In English, it basically says that if a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage is passed, the justices who made the previous court ruling that made same-sex marriage legal will have their salary reduced to $25,000, the same as a state legislator. The associate justices currently make $163,000, while the chief justices make $170,850.

The Republicans who proposed the measure claim it is not punitive. Representative Tom Shaw said that "We’re just holding them responsible for their decision, for going beyond their bounds." They brought up examples of other upcoming court decisions that they felt they would disagree with, decisions that the legislature is trying to rectify through legislation this session rather than via punishing the justices.

Other legislators mocked the measure. Senate Judiciary Chairman Rob Hogg said "How ridiculous can you get?" He cited the 1803 U.S. Supreme Court decision Marbury v. Madison, which established the whole concept of judicial review of legislation.

This episode only goes to show the petty vindictiveness that can encompass politicians who serve for the sake of ideology rather than the people. Thankfully, Chairman Hogg suggested that even if the measure makes it through the legislature, it was unlikely to withstand a challenge in the court.