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Constitution Day spurs discussion

Jermaine Pigee, The Hawk Eye, Burlington, Iowa –

WEST BURLINGTON – Iowa Supreme Court Justice Thomas Waterman said the United States and Iowa have prospered because of the brilliance of our founding fathers.

“They are the framers of both our federal constitution and the Iowa constitution,” said Waterman.

Waterman, whose great-grandfather, Charles M. Waterman, served on the Iowa Supreme Court from 1898 to 1902, delivered a presentation on the Bill of Rights under the Iowa Constitution before a packed house Tuesday evening in the Little Theater at Southeastern Community College.

The event was attended by faculty, students, attorneys and judges.

His presentation was part of the People’s Rights Academy, which was organized by the Eighth Judicial District and SCC.

Waterman was appointed to the court last year, one of three new justices appointed after Justices Marsha Ternus, Michael Streit and David Baker failed a retention vote in 2010.

The three justices were part of the court that issued the unanimous decision in 2009 that paved the way for same-sex marriages in Iowa. Justice David Wiggins faces a similar vote in November and has been targeted by foes of the decision, Varnum v. Brien.

In addition to Waterman, different appellate and several district court judges discussed topics Tuesday including the Iowa Constitution and selection of judges, small claims court and the constitutional rights of the accused.

“The purpose of this program is to celebrate Constitution Day and Week by discussing the Constitution and having a dialog about it,” said District Judge Michael Schilling, one of the organizers.

As one of seven Supreme Court justices, Waterman said it’s their obligation to uphold the rule of law and preserve the liberties enshrined in the bill of rights.

“Our rights as citizens by definition are restrictions on what the government and sometimes the police can do,” he said. “Sometimes, our court decisions are going to be unpopular because they are going to be contrary to what your elected branches of government are wanting to do, or contrary to the current majority.”

This year is the 225th anniversary of the signing of the U.S. Constitution and the 155th anniversary of the Iowa Constitution, Waterman said.

In 1857, he said, the federal Constitution was viewed as a limitation only on the federal government.

“The Bill of Rights was not applied to the state government until 1961,” Waterman said. “When the framers of the Iowa Constitution gathered in Iowa City, they knew if they wanted Iowa citizens to have the same protections against overreaching state government, they needed an Iowa Bill of Rights.”

With Waterman’s lobbying, Schilling is hoping in the next year, the Iowa Supreme Court will hold arguments in Burlington.

“I’m serious about trying to bring the court on the road here to Burlington,” Waterman said. “You will see a very important part of the appellate process.”

Waterman said putting the court on the road is a good thing for everyone.

“It’s healthy for us to get out,” he said. “Our regular offices are in Davenport, but I think it’s good for the court to get on the road, meet the public, do our oral arguments and take your questions.”

Katarina Rippenkroeger, a senior at Central Lee High School, attended the presentation as part of an assignment for her government class.

“I learned a lot about the government,” she said. “I also learned a lot about the different laws.”

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