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Iowa Acting Chief Justice Urges Respect For Government Institutions In Speech To Lawmakers

david wiggins
John Pemble
Acting Chief Justice David Wiggins speaks to lawmakers at the Iowa Capitol Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2020.

The acting chief justice of the Iowa Supreme Court highlighted the importance of respecting government institutions in his Condition of the Judiciary speech before the Iowa Legislature Wednesday.

Acting Chief Justice David Wiggins said he drew on the ideas of the late Chief Justice Mark Cady to talk about the respect the courts have for elected officials. He said both are set up to speak for the people of Iowa in different ways.

“Our government was set up for you to be their voice. Courts are different,” Wiggins said.

“We too were set up to speak, but in a more limited way. We resolve legal disputes brought to us by Iowans by applying the law, including the values and principles found in the people’s constitution. The independence of the courts from the political branches is not a divide, but our very strength as a state and as a nation,” he said.

After his speech, Wiggins denied that it was related to Republican lawmakers’ actions last year to slightly change the process for choosing justices and limit the term of the chief justice.

He was also asked if his comments were a response to some Republicans accusing the Court of “judicial activism.” Wiggins said he believes that is a label given by the losing party in any given ruling.

“I think we have to do what we need to do, and the legislature and the governor needs to do what they think are right, and the government will endure,” Wiggins said.

This was Wiggins’ first and last time delivering the judicial branch’s annual speech to lawmakers. He announced last week that he will retire in March.

“It’s about time,” Wiggins said when asked why he’s leaving, adding that he was planning to retire about a year ago. But then one justice got sick and left the court, and Cady died unexpectedly, leaving Wiggins as the acting chief.

“We’re all caretakers of the court,” Wiggins said. “The 16 years on the court, I’ve been a caretaker of the justice system and when I’m done, someone else is going to come in and do the same thing. And I’m sure the governor will pick a very qualified person, or persons—there’s two openings—and I’m sure the court will endure, as it always has.”

His retirement means Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds will get to make a fourth appointment to the state’s highest court.

Wiggins did not talk about funding for the courts, as Cady did in the last few years.

But the court system is requesting more than $188 million in the next fiscal year, close to a 4 percent budget increase. Reynolds’ court funding recommendation is in line with their request.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter