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Iowa Supreme Court

Mid-week open thread: Who could have imagined?

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Apr 16, 2014 at 19:45:00 PM CDT

Here's your mid-week open thread, Bleeding Heartland readers: all topics welcome.

I have been thinking about the latest Iowa Supreme Court decision a lot today. A year ago, I would have sworn that as long as Terry Branstad remains governor, there's nothing anyone can do for the thousands of ex-felons permanently disenfranchised in this state. Branstad couldn't wait to sign that executive order as soon as he was back in office. Under the convoluted procedure he created, only a small fraction of 1 percent of those who have completed their prison terms have managed to regain their voting rights.

The day State Senator Jack Hatch declared his candidacy for governor, I could never have imagined the unlikely chain of events that followed. First, arch-rivals Tony Bisignano and Ned Chiodo set their sights on Hatch's Iowa Senate seat. Then, Bisignano was caught driving drunk again. Then, Chiodo not only challenged Bisignano's right to seek office but continued to pursue his case in court after losing before a panel of top state officials. (In contrast, the voter who challenged State Senator Joe Seng's registration as a candidate in IA-02 two years ago dropped his effort after the same panel determined Seng had qualified for the primary ballot.)

Then, Chiodo refused to take the Polk County District Court's no for an answer. Still I had no clue where all this was going--until yesterday, when three of the Iowa Supreme Court justices determined that not all felonies should be considered "infamous crimes," which justify stripping Iowans of their rights as electors. Very soon, one or more non-violent felons are likely to file suit, demanding that their rights be restored. Depending on where Justice Brent Appel comes down on the issue (he recused himself from the Chiodo/Bisignano case), the Iowa Supreme Court may eventually declare unconstitutional the 1994 law defining "infamous crimes" as felonies.

We don't know whether a majority on the court will take this stance. As Ryan Koopmans points out, the Chiodo ruling came out incredibly quickly. One or more of the justices may change his mind after reflecting on the issues for a while. Still, the potential for a major advance in Iowa voting rights is mind-blowing.  

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Divided Iowa Supreme Court rules Tony Bisignano can run in Iowa Senate district 17 (updated)

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Apr 15, 2014 at 18:22:20 PM CDT

A three-way Democratic primary is assured in Iowa Senate district 17, as the Iowa Supreme Court announced this afternoon that it has affirmed a district court ruling on Tony Bisignano's eligibility to run for office. Rival candidate Ned Chiodo filed a lawsuit last month, saying Bisignano's recent aggravated misdemeanor conviction for second-offense OWI should be considered an "infamous crime." The Iowa Constitution disqualifies citizens convicted of "infamous crimes" from exercising the privileges of "electors."

Chief Justice Mark Cady wrote the plurality opinion, joined by Justices Daryl Hecht and Bruce Zager. Overturning Iowa Supreme Court precedents set in 1916 and 1957, the court ruled that "infamous crimes" cannot be interpreted to mean any crime punishable by a prison sentence, including aggravated misdemeanors. On the other hand, the court did not simply accept the 1994 law defining "infamous crimes" as felonies. Citing historical references including an 1839 Iowa territorial statute, the plurality argues that not all felonies are "infamous," and that the words had different meanings at the time the Iowa Constitution was adopted in the 1850s. It did not go on to define which felonies should be considered infamous crimes in the present context.

Justice Edward Mansfield wrote a concurring opinion, joined by Justice Thomas Waterman. The concurrence agrees that Bisignano retains his rights as an elector, because aggravated misdemeanors cannot be considered "infamous crimes." However, Mansfield would have accepted the bright-line definition from the 1994 state law, equating felonies with "infamous crimes." He warned that the plurality opinion would serve as a "welcome mat" for future litigation from felons claiming that they should be entitled to vote, because their convictions were not for "infamous crimes." On balance, I agree most with Mansfield's opinion.

Justice David Wiggins dissented, arguing that the court should not have rewritten "nearly one hundred years of caselaw." He would have found Bisignano ineligible to run for office under the longstanding precedent that "infamous crime" means any crime punishable by a prison sentence. Wiggins' dissenting opinion does not accept the 1994 law which defined "infamous crimes" as felonies, because interpreting the state Constitution is a job for the Iowa Supreme Court, not the state legislature.

Justice Brent Appel recused himself from this case.

The Iowa Supreme Court did not rule on Chiodo's separate claim that Attorney General Tom Miller should have recused himself from the panel that allowed Bisignano to remain on the ballot. Chiodo argued that Miller had a conflict of interest, because one of his employees, Assistant Attorney General Nathan Blake, is also seeking the Democratic nomination in Senate district 17.

You can read the Iowa Supreme Court's three opinions in this case here (pdf). After the jump I've enclosed summaries and excerpts from each opinion. I also included a statement from Bisignano hailing the ruling and announcing several more labor union endorsements.

One thing's for sure: today's ruling won't be the last attempt by the Iowa Supreme Court to clarify the definition of "infamous crimes."

UPDATE: Added Nathan Blake's comment below. SECOND UPDATE: Added more thoughts about the implications of this case.

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Schultz appeals to Iowa Supreme Court on voter citizenship checks

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Apr 04, 2014 at 20:25:00 PM CDT

On behalf of Secretary of State Matt Schultz, the Iowa Attorney General's office has asked the Iowa Supreme Court to review last month's District Court decision invalidating a proposed rule that has been one of Schultz's priorities. As Bleeding Heartland discussed here, the rule would allow the Secretary of State's Office to check Iowa voters' citizenship status against a federal database. Registered voters suspected of not being citizens would be informed by mail. Those who cannot prove their citizenship or do not respond within 60 days would be removed from the voter rolls.

Polk County District Court Judge Scott Rosenberg determined that Schultz overstepped his authority when he promulgated the rule. His decision in favor of the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa and the Iowa League of United Latin American Citizens did not address a separate legal question: whether Schultz's rule violated the right to vote.

If the Iowa Supreme Court overturns last month's decision, that would mean only that the Secretary of State had the authority to establish the new rule in the absence of legislative action. Further litigation would determine whether the procedure Schultz envisioned could intimidate eligible voters or deprive them of their rights.

I expect the Iowa Supreme Court to uphold the District Court ruling. Regardless, the appeal may boost Schultz's standing with Republican primary voters in the third Congressional district. They will love this part of yesterday's press release from the Secretary of State's Office:

"I have fought for integrity and voter's rights.  We can't allow non-citizens to cancel out the vote of Iowans, but at the same time, anyone accused deserves due process.  My rule gives voters more due process and protects the integrity of the vote," Schultz said.

Any relevant thoughts are welcome in this thread. Schultz's use of the phrase "due process" suggests to me a fundamental misunderstanding of his role. The Secretary of State is an administrator, not a law enforcement official.  

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IA-Gov: Iowa Supreme Court rejects Narcisse bid for spot on primary ballot

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Apr 01, 2014 at 10:46:20 AM CDT

State Senator Jack Hatch will be unopposed on the Democratic primary ballot for governor. The Iowa Supreme Court issued a short opinion on March 31 affirming without comment a District Court's decision rejecting Jonathan Narcisse's claim that he submitted enough signatures to seek the Democratic nomination for governor. The Supreme Court justices agreed to hear the case on an expedited schedule because primary ballots need to be sent to the printer soon. They did not explain the reasoning behind affirming the lower court's decision. Reports last week indicated that three of the seven Iowa Supreme Court justices would hear Narcisse's appeal: David Wiggins, Daryl Hecht, and Edward Mansfield. However, the ruling released yesterday indicates that all justices concurred except for Brent Appel, who recused himself.

Speaking by telephone this morning, Narcisse confirmed that he will run a write-in campaign for the Democratic primary. He said he was "disappointed the Supreme Court affirmed the decision without reviewing the evidence." He acknowledged his campaign's oversight in not making sure the "governor" line was filled in on all the nominating petitions: "Ultimately, this happened because we messed up, but the law was not equitably applied. This was not a disqualifiable offense." He particularly objected to how the District Court considered a 2012 election law ruling from Arizona but rejected as evidence the Iowa panel ruling from the same year allowing State Senator Joe Seng to run for Congress, despite missing information on some of his nominating petitions.

Narcisse said he has "no illusions about a write-in campaign" but is compelled to keep talking about issues that need to be addressed, including the "disparity in justice," the "phony war on drugs which is really a war on the poor," and Iowa's "bipartisan alliance brutalizing poor working people." In his view, Hatch "has not fought the good fight the way he should have." Narcisse said he has not decided yet whether he would mount a second bid for governor as an independent.

After the jump I've posted a more extensive comment from the Narcisse campaign about the lower court's ruling on his ballot access.

UPDATE: Added a comment below from Alfredo Parrish, who represented Narcisse.

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Branstad defends DHS director and appeals to Iowa Supreme Court

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Feb 10, 2014 at 12:23:16 PM CST

This morning Governor Terry Branstad stood by Iowa Department of Human Services Director Chuck Palmer and his handling of problems at the Iowa Juvenile Home in Toledo (Tama County). He also spoke confidently about his appeal to Iowa Supreme Court against a Polk County District Court ruling ordering that the Iowa Juvenile Home be reopened.

More background and details are after the jump.  

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Branstad names impeachment advocate to Judicial Nominating Commission

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Feb 05, 2014 at 08:55:26 AM CST

I knew that Governor Terry Branstad was trying to fill the State Judicial Nominating Commission with conservatives and big Republican donors.

I knew that Branstad liked naming former state legislators to prominent positions, sometimes without considering anyone else for the job, sometimes even when the former lawmaker hadn't asked for the job.

But until yesterday, I never imagined that Branstad would consider a Judicial Nominating Commission an appropriate place for someone who tried to impeach Iowa Supreme Court justices over the Varnum v Brien ruling on marriage.  

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Iowa Supreme Court considering defamation case over 2010 political ad

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Jan 24, 2014 at 12:13:35 PM CST

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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Iowa Supreme Court seeking public comments on new media rules

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Oct 29, 2013 at 08:35:00 AM CDT

Via the On Brief blog, I saw that yesterday the Iowa Supreme Court made public proposed changes to rules about electronic media coverage of its proceedings. I've posted the full press release after the jump.

The new rules are based on recommendations by a Committee on Expanded Media Coverage, appointed last December. Iowa Supreme Court Justice Bruce Zager chaired that committee, which included journalists as well as court officials and submitted its final report in August 2013. You can view the proposed rule changes here; words to be removed are crossed out, while suggested new language is underlined. Instructions on submitting a public comment on or before January 6, 2014, are here. People may submit their comments in person, by regular mail, or via e-mail.  

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Report details spending on 2012 Iowa judicial retention election

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Oct 25, 2013 at 06:55:00 AM CDT

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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Weekend open thread, with recent Iowa Supreme Court news

by: desmoinesdem

Sun Oct 13, 2013 at 13:30:00 PM CDT

What's on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? This is an open thread.

I've been catching up on news related to the Iowa Supreme Court. On October 9 the seven justices heard oral arguments in two cases at the Fort Dodge Middle School auditorium. One of those cases was Iowa Farm Bureau, et al. v. Environmental Protection Commission, et al. Interest groups representing major water polluting industries in Iowa are seeking to overturn one of the most significant water quality protection rules this state has adopted during my lifetime. In March 2012, a Polk County District Court judge declared the legal challenge to the rule "without merit." The Farm Bureau quickly signaled its intent to appeal, claiming the case was about "good government" rather than water quality.

The Iowa Supreme Court will likely announce a decision in this case sometime early next year. Ryan Koopmans noted recently at the On Brief blog that the justices have cleared what used to be a major backlog and are running an efficient operation.

On average, the Court issues a decision 112 days after final submission (which is usually triggered by oral argument).  But even that figure understates the Court's efficiency.   There is a small subset of cases that, because of their complexity or other unusual factors, skew the average, which means that the median might give a better picture of the Court's timeliness.  That's 87 days between final submission and decision, which is relatively fast.

The Court is even faster when the situation calls for it.  In February, the Court issued a decision in In re Whalen-a case about a burial location- just 29 days after the scheduled oral argument.  And the  Court has made it a priority to respond quickly to certified questions from federal district courts.

Incidentally, last week's session in Fort Dodge is part of the Iowa Supreme Court's relatively new commitment to hear cases outside its chambers in Des Moines periodically. The effort was one response to the 2010 retention elections, the first ever in which voters chose not to retain Iowa Supreme Court justices. University of Iowa College of Law professor Todd Pettys cited those hearings around the state as one among many reasons that the 2012 vote to retain Justice David Wiggins turned out differently from the elections two years earlier. You can download Pettys' paper for the Journal of Appellate Practice and Process here. While it's probably healthy for the justices to work in other cities from time to time, I think the other factors Pettys discusses were far more important in 2012 than the court's statewide tour.

At the end of Pettys' paper, he discusses the future for the Varnum v Brien ruling, which cleared the way for same-sex marriages in Iowa in 2009. Commenting on a somewhat surprising "special concurrence" by Justices Edward Mansfield and Thomas Waterman in a different case related to marriage equality, Pettys suggests that perhaps "the Iowa Supreme Court is no longer of one mind about whether the Varnum Court was right to hold that the Iowa Constitution grants same-sex couples the right to marry."

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

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Oct 03, 2013 at 15:11:09 PM CDT

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.

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Iowa Supreme Court allows review of long sentences for juveniles

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Aug 23, 2013 at 14:51:36 PM CDT

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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Ethics board to investigate National Organization for Marriage spending on retention votes

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Aug 12, 2013 at 16:40:00 PM CDT

The Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board voted unanimously on August 8 to investigate the National Organization for Marriage's spending in Iowa during the 2010 and 2012 judicial retention elections. Details are after the jump.

UPDATE: Added details below on the National Organization for Marriage demanding that the ethics board's executive director recuse herself from any investigation.

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Where are they now? Marsha Ternus edition

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Aug 06, 2013 at 21:03:00 PM CDT

Catching up on news from last week, former Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Marsha Ternus will serve as director of the new Tom Harkin Institute for Public Policy and Citizen Engagement at Drake University in Des Moines. The Harkin Institute was originally established at Iowa State University, the senator's alma mater, but that arrangement fell apart earlier this year. Harkin confirmed in June that he planned to donate his papers to Drake.

In one of the most disappointing election results of my lifetime, a majority of Iowans voted against retaining Ternus and two of her fellow Supreme Court justices in November 2010. She had served on the court for 17 years, the last four as chief justice. Ternus had a "major positive impact" on the justice system during her tenure. Governor Terry Branstad appointed Ternus to the high court but said nothing in her defense as social conservatives trashed her alleged "activism" during the anti-retention campaign.

After the jump I've posted Drake University's announcement of the Ternus appointment as well as her official bio.  

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Another Iowa Supreme Court ruling for equality (updated)

by: desmoinesdem

Mon May 06, 2013 at 07:25:00 AM CDT

In a decision announced on Friday, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that it is unconstitutional for the Iowa Department of Public Health to refuse to list a non-birthing lesbian spouse on a child's birth certificate. Details on this nearly unanimous ruling are after the jump. I was intrigued by how Governor Terry Branstad's three appointees from 2011 handled this case.
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Mid-week open thread: Varnum v Brien anniversary edition

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Apr 03, 2013 at 18:35:00 PM CDT

What's on your mind, Bleeding Heartland readers? Four years ago today, the Iowa Supreme Court announced its unanimous ruling in Varnum v Brien, striking down our state's Defense of Marriage Act. After the jump I've posted some links about that case, marriage equality in general, and today's Iowa Governors Conference on LGBTQ Youth.

This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

The return of Iowa wildflower Wednesday is probably still a couple of weeks away. By the first week of April 2012, many spring wildflowers were already in bloom (far earlier than usual), but even the bloodroot isn't out yet where I live.  

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Iowa Senate Ethics Committee punts on Sorenson allegation

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Feb 14, 2013 at 10:00:07 AM CST

The Iowa Senate Ethics committee (unofficial slogan: "See no evil, hear no evil") met yesterday to consider an ethics complaint filed against Republican Senator Kent Sorenson. Five of the six committee members voted to table two serious allegations raised by Peter Waldron, who was a consultant for Michele Bachmann's presidential campaign while Sorenson was the campaign's Iowa chair in 2011.
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Chief Justice Cady makes strong case for more court funding

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Jan 17, 2013 at 07:35:00 AM CST

Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Cady delivered the annual Condition of the Judiciary speech to Iowa House and Senate members yesterday. As he did in 2011 and again last year, Cady appealed to lawmakers to fund the judiciary at an adequate level. Highlights from his case are below.
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Pick a legal fight you can win

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Dec 28, 2012 at 07:35:00 AM CST

An Iowa Supreme Court ruling announced last week made news around the country. The seven justices unanimously rejected a gender discrimination claim from a plaintiff whose boss had obviously treated her unfairly.
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Most surprising election results discussion thread

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Nov 09, 2012 at 15:00:00 PM CST

What surprised you most about the 2012 general election results? Please share your thoughts in this thread. My top five surprises are below.
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