Why did Chief Justice Cady change his mind about felon voting rights?

I don’t usually write posts like this one.

Check that: I don’t think I’ve ever written a post like this one.

I’m making an exception because the question has been nagging at me since the Iowa Supreme Court announced its 4-3 decision in Griffin v Pate two weeks ago today, and because a number of people who share my interest in felon voting rights have asked for my opinion.

Only Chief Justice Mark Cady knows the answer, and we won’t hear his side of the story until he writes his memoirs or speaks to some interviewer in retirement.

So with no claim to telepathic powers and full awareness that my analysis may therefore be flawed, I will do my best to understand why the author of the 2014 opinion that inspired Kelli Jo Griffin’s lawsuit ultimately decided our state constitution "permits persons convicted of a felony to be disqualified from voting in Iowa until pardoned or otherwise restored to the rights of citizenship."

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Why is Iowa's secretary of state playing politics with felon voting case?

Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate is a defendant in Kelli Jo Griffin’s lawsuit claiming Iowa violates her constitutional rights by disenfranchising all felons. The Iowa Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case on March 30. Justices are expected to decide by the end of June whether to uphold the current system or declare that Iowa’s constitutional provision on "infamous crimes" should not apply to all felonies.

Defendants typically refrain from commenting on pending litigation, but during the past three weeks, Pate has carried out an extraordinary public effort to discredit the plaintiffs in the voting rights case. In his official capacity, he has addressed a large radio audience and authored an op-ed column run by many Iowa newspapers.

Pate amped up his attack on "the other side" in speeches at three of the four Iowa GOP district conventions on April 9. After misrepresenting the goals of Griffin’s allies and distorting how a ruling for the plaintiff could alter Iowa’s electorate, the secretary of state asked hundreds of Republican activists for their help in fighting against those consequences.

At a minimum, the secretary of state has used this lawsuit to boost his own standing. Even worse, his words could be aimed at intimidating the "unelected judges" who have yet to rule on the case. Regardless of Pate’s motives, his efforts to politicize a pending Supreme Court decision are disturbing.

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Iowa Supreme Court considering defamation case over 2010 political ad

The Iowa Supreme Court heard oral arguments yesterday in an appeal of Republican State Senator Rick Bertrand’s defamation lawsuit against his 2010 opponent, Rick Mullin, and the Iowa Democratic Party. Des Moines attorney and law blogger Ryan Koopmans live-tweeted the hearing, and Mike Wiser and Grant Rodgers published summaries.

We’ll know the verdict within a few months, but I’ve posted some thoughts and predictions below.

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Report details spending on 2012 Iowa judicial retention election

Via Radio Iowa I saw that a report just came out about spending in judicial elections across the country in 2011 and 2012. Researchers from the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, the National Institute on Money in State Politics, and the nonpartisan group Justice at Stake collaborated on the report, which you can download here (pdf). Excerpt:

Spending in the Iowa Supreme Court retention election totaled more than $833,000 in 2012, down from the $1.4 million spent in 2010 but still substantial in a state with no recorded spending on high court races during the previous decade. Anti-retention groups spent $466,000 on the 2012 election, including $318,000 by Iowans For Freedom and $148,000 by the National Organization for Marriage. Both groups ran television ads. Pro-retention groups spent $367,000, including $320,000 by Justice Not Politics, $37,000 by the Iowa State Bar and roughly $5,000 each by Progress Iowa and the Human Rights Campaign.

Major donors to Iowans for Freedom (a campaign group fronted by Bob Vander Plaats) included “CitizenLink, Patriot Voices, The Family Leader, the National Organization for Marriage, and CatholicVote.” Of the $466,000 spent on the “No Wiggins” campaign, an estimated $163,600 went toward broadcasting two television commercials. Bleeding Heartland posted videos and transcripts of those ads here and here.

Justice David Wiggins didn’t create a campaign fund or raise money directly. The largest donor to Justice Not Politics Action was the LGBT advocacy group Human Rights Campaign, which gave $135,000. That’s more than a third of the total funds spent campaigning for retention.

Iowa voters retained Wiggins by a margin of 680,284 votes to 567,024 (about 54.5 percent to 45.5 percent). Whereas just ten counties had voted to retain the three Iowa Supreme Court justices up for retention in 2010, 36 counties voted yes on Wiggins in 2012.

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Cady, Zager emerge as Iowa Supreme Court's "swing" justices

Chief Justice Mark Cady and Justice Bruce Zager emerged as "swing" votes on the Iowa Supreme Court during the latest session, according to new analysis by Ryan Koopmans at the On Brief blog. During the 2012/2013 term, the high court handed down split decisions in 30 of the 83 cases considered that were not related to attorney discipline. Two distinct "voting blocs" emerged, with Justices David Wiggins, Daryl Hecht, and Brent Appel often on one side and Justices Edward Mansfield and Thomas Waterman on the other side. Cady and Zager were usually part of the majority and only occasionally sided with the dissenters.

A similar analysis by Koopmans showed that during the Iowa Supreme Court’s 2011/2012 term, Zager was the only swing justice, never dissenting from a majority opinion. Cady typically ended up on the same side as Waterman and Mansfield.

Tables on this page show how often each of the seven Iowa Supreme Court justices agreed with each other in non-unanimous decisions during the past two years. It will be interesting to see whether these trends hold or change.

Governor Terry Branstad appointed Cady in 1998 and Mansfield, Waterman, and Zager in 2011. Governor Tom Vilsack appointed Wiggins in 2003 and Appel and Hecht in 2006. None of the justices will be up for retention in 2014. Cady, Appel, and Hecht should have little trouble being retained again in 2016, judging from the failed attempt by social conservatives to oust Wiggins in 2012.

Iowa Supreme Court allows review of long sentences for juveniles

Catching up on news from last week, the Iowa Supreme Court handed down three important decisions related to juvenile sentencing on August 16. I finally had a chance to read through the rulings, which do not guarantee early release for any prisoner but could allow hundreds of Iowans to have their sentences reviewed, if they were convicted for crimes committed as minors.

Follow me after the jump for background and key points from the three rulings. Unfortunately, Governor Terry Branstad still seems to be missing the point of the U.S. Supreme Court decision that set all of these cases in motion.

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