The Iowa Judges and Judicial Independence

Today The New York Times published this letter from City Bar President Sam Seymour:

To the Editor:
Judges Were Independent. Then They Were Defeated.

We were pleased to see your front-page coverage of Tuesday’s electoral removal of three Iowa Supreme Court justices because they had ruled in 2009 that the State Constitution protected same-sex marriage (“Ouster of Iowa Judges Sends Signal to Bench,” Nov. 4).

When a judge suffers an electoral defeat because he or she exercised judicial independence, we all suffer. Despite that, in a post-election statement, the three justices — Marsha K. Ternus, the chief justice; David L. Baker; and Michael J. Streit — wisely reminded us that we must continue to create and support an independent, merit-selected judiciary.

While it is regrettable that the justices were defeated in a retention election not for judicial incompetence but for ruling in a way they believed was required under the State Constitution, we should not be deterred in our efforts to achieve a truly independent judiciary in New York. This means replacing the current election of judges with the adoption of a commission-based, merit-selected appointment system.

We are confident that this is the best way to select New York’s judiciary. Apparently, three departing judges from Iowa agree with us.

Samuel W. Seymour
New York City Bar Association
New York, Nov. 4, 2010