Lawmaker wants to slash salaries of Iowa State Supreme Court Justices

Rep. Skyler Wheeler, R-Orange County. — photo courtesy of the State of Iowa

A bill filed in the Iowa House of Representatives on Thursday would cut the salaries of the justices of the Supreme Court by approximately 85 percent. HF 2036 would reduce the salaries of the court’s associate justices from $170,544 to the current pay level of state legislators, $25,000. The $178,538 salary of the chief justice would also be reduced to that same level.

“If they want to act like legislators, then they should be paid like legislators,” Rep. Skyler Wheeler of Orange City, the bill’s author, told Little Village via email.

Being a member of the state assembly is considered a part-time position in Iowa, which is reflected in the salary for legislators. Iowa Supreme Court justice, on the other hand is a full-time position.

According to data compiled by the National Center for State Courts, Iowa ranks 22nd in the nation when it comes to pay for state supreme court justices, between Nebraska ($171,975) and Indiana ($170,195). Under Wheeler’s bill, the salary of an Iowa’s justice would be only be a fifth of what is currently the lowest in the county ($130,136, Maine’s annual salary for the justices of its highest court).

Asked why he was pushing for such an extreme pay cut, Wheeler replied, “This is in response to what I see as an activist court that has overstepped its bounds several times. This, along with two resolutions calling for term limits for these justices and shortening their retention elections from eight to four years has been on my radar for some time now. The courthouse weapons ban was the last straw for me.”

In June, Chief Justice Mark Cady issued an order prohibiting anyone other than members of law enforcement or court officers from carrying firearms in the state’s courthouses. In the order, Cady noted, “Unfortunately, as many news reports attest, incidents of violence in courthouses are becoming more and more common in both urban and rural counties. These incidents have occurred across the state from Des Moines County to Woodbury County and from Jackson County to Pottawattamie County.”

At the time Cady issued the order, 72 of the state’s 99 counties already banned the general public carrying weapons in their courthouses.

On Dec. 19, Cady issued another order that created a new exception to the firearms ban. Upon receiving a request, the chief judge of a judicial district can issue a waiver allowing the general public to carry firearms in any part of a courthouse other than the courtrooms.

Wheeler, a Republican whose election to his northwestern Iowa seat in 2016 attracted statewide attention because he was only 23 years old, listed “Defending our Second Amendment rights and instituting Stand Your Ground and Constitutional Carry” as one of his top three priorities in a campaign interview with the conservative Christian site, Caffeinated Thoughts.

In that interview, Wheeler offered a description of the worldview that informs his approach to politics:

“My worldview begins with the Bible and taking it in its literal form. Using the Bible as my compass, I come to conclusions that life is precious, marriage is one natural man and one natural woman, taxes should not be overbearing, and the government’s job is to reward those who abide by the law and punish those who do not. As a state legislator, I will use the Bible as my starting point for making decisions on what legislation I should support and which I should oppose.”

HF 2036 was introduced the week after Chief Justice Cady delivered the Condition of the Judiciary Address to the state legislature. Cady warned that the judiciary has been underfunded for years, which is causing problems that are “beginning to tear at the very fabric of our operation and mission.” He told lawmakers that because of the lack of funding, “we are currently operating with 115 essential positions unfilled, and this number is growing.”

Wheeler is currently the only sponsor of HF 2016, which has been referred to the Judiciary Committee of the Iowa House. Asked if he thinks the bill has a realistic chance being passed, Wheeler replied, “I think it would be tough, but I don’t file bills to make statements. I file what I want to see passed.”

Even if the bill isn’t successful in this legislative session, Wheeler said he intends to continue to push for the pay cut “until the Court goes back to doing its job and not pursuing an activist agenda.”

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