Judge Annette J. Schieszinski
Before taking that first step onto the bench, every new judge must take an oath of office. During this solemn occasion, judges swear to support the U.S. and Iowa Constitutions. They further pledge to administer justice “without fear, favor, affection or hope of reward ... equally to the rich and the poor.” This oath has its origins in the 1851 Iowa Code and has endured into the 21st century.
Modern judges must also abide by the Iowa Code of Judicial Conduct, which, like nearly all state judicial ethics codes, is premised on the model adopted by the American Bar Association. The Code of Judicial Conduct articulates a strong rule on judges: no judge can act with bias or prejudice. To make it perfectly clear, the Code spells out types of prejudice to be particularly wary of in our American culture.
By definition, a fair and impartial judge performs without bias and without pre-judging court issues. But judges are mortal, and every human being has some predispositions. I tell my children that I have a natural bias against lazy people — particularly kids when they don’t do their chores. That’s the bias I have to set aside when I step through the courthouse door.
Recently I presided over a Poweshiek County jury trial. I emphasized to the assembled jurors — the bedrock principle of American justice — that judges act without bias and without prejudice of any sort. Because jurors serve as “judges of the facts,” they also are expected to decide cases based only on the evidence received during the trial and the legal instructions the judge provides to them. I therefore instructed the jurors as follows:
Personal prejudices have no place in court. You must set aside and disregard any personal feelings of bias or prejudice which you may have, including but not limited to any bias or prejudice based on age, race, creed, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, religion, disability, marital status, socioeconomic status or political affiliation. You must decide this case on the basis of only that evidence which is admitted and the law as I explain it to you.
There, you have it. The evidence and the law, that’s all. No bias, no prejudice. Period.
Judge Scieszinski is a district court judge who travels the circuit of District 8-A’s 10 counties. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.