The Ottumwa Courier

July 5, 2012

Independence, freedom and the courts

Court Calls

Judge Dan Wilson

OTTUMWA — “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness …” These words in the Declaration of Independence, and the framework of government that they so eloquently express, lay the foundation and remind us of the challenge to preserve a free and independent people.

How do we preserve, maintain and protect those freedoms? I remember and honor the service and sacrifice of my dad who flew Navy planes off carriers in the Pacific in World War II and in Korea. Every time he entered the cockpit of his plane and was catapulted off the carrier there was a good chance he would not come back. I remember and honor the current service of our son, a 1st Lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps serving in Afghanistan, our daughter-in-law who is a lieutenant in the Navy and deployed to the Middle East and a nephew who is a captain and helicopter pilot in the Marines; in fact, their service and welfare are constantly on our minds and in our family’s prayers.

It is our duty to protect, preserve and defend the freedoms, paid for by the sacrifices of our military and those who have gone before us. How is this accomplished? Why is it so important?

In our civilian life the courts, enforcing the rule of law, act every day to preserve our freedoms. “Rule of Law” is the principle that no person is above the law. Also, the idea is that governmental authority is to be exercised based upon a written, disclosed, duly adopted, and uniformly enforced set of procedures sometimes referred to as due process of law. The courts are the key to maintaining our freedoms. The legal system must be transparent with a clear set of laws, strong and consistent enforcement, coupled with a fair judiciary. Every citizen is to be protected from the arbitrary use of power by the state or by any individual.

Our economic system, and ultimately whether people have jobs and can be independent and self-sustaining, depends on a business environment and economy where people have incentive and the opportunity to take risks and create jobs. Disputes occur when the rules are not clearly understood, or where reasonable procedures are not uniformly followed to resolve differences. Property rights are one of the keys to freedom and prosperity. In the end, within certain parameters, people must retain the ability to make their own decisions, accept the benefit of their good choices, and bear the costs of the bad ones.

This week I will pause to consider and celebrate our freedoms, and the courage and faith of our founding fathers in their pursuit of liberty.

Judge Wilson lives in Centerville and has served nearly 17 years as a trial court judge on the District 8A bench. He may be reached at