Iowa Supreme Court: Branstad had power to veto mental health funding

Another one for the “elections have consequences” file: The Iowa Supreme Court unanimously ruled on November 10 that Governor Terry Branstad “did not exceed the scope of his constitutional authority” when he vetoed funds state lawmakers had approved to keep open mental health facilities in Mount Pleasant and Clarinda.

A large group of Democratic legislators, joined by the president of the public employee union AFSCME, filed suit soon after Branstad vetoed the funding in July 2015. Their lawsuit contended that Iowa Code contains language requiring the state to operate Mental Health Institutes in Mt. Pleasant and Clarinda. But last November, a Polk County District Court held that “Existing statutes are not conditions on appropriations” and “cannot limit the Governor’s item veto authority.” Bleeding Heartland published excerpts from Judge Douglas Staskal’s decision here.

Last week’s Iowa Supreme Court opinion by Justice David Wiggins affirmed Staskal’s ruling but found that the District Court “failed to address” a matter of constitutional law raised by the plaintiffs. After additional analysis of the legislative intent behind language designating the facilities in Mount Pleasant and Clarinda as “state hospitals for persons with mental illness,” the high court reached the same conclusion as Staskal: the governor had the power to veto funds earmarked for operating facilities he had closed. I enclose below excerpts from the opinion.

Branstad’s spokesperson Ben Hammes did quite the spin job in his statement:

Today’s unanimous Supreme Court decision affirms the Governor’s action by allowing more Iowans to have access to quality mental health care and substance abuse treatment than ever before. The State’s mental health care redesign allows Iowans to access treatment in a community-based setting and through more modern means. Gov. Branstad is committed to putting patients first, improving care, increasing access and modernizing the delivery of mental health services. In fact, there are currently at any time 60-100 psychiatric inpatients beds open across the state. Iowa now maintains a robust level of access to mental health beds that are more efficiently delivered.

Nice try, Hammes. In reality, the justices did not assess either the merits of Branstad’s decision to close the in-patient facilities or the quality of mental health care and substance abuse treatment in Iowa. In reality, Iowa “consistently ranks in the bottom five of all states in every single category of mental health programs and services.” In reality, Iowa “ranks dead last in the country for state psychiatric beds per capita.” In reality, “many Iowans with serious mental illnesses are being marooned” for weeks or months in hospitals, for lack of adequate facilities or services to monitor their care.

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"The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away": a Jobian analysis of gay marriage in America

A frightening look at how a changed Supreme Court might strip LGBT Americans of marriage rights. You can find previous writing by Bill from White Plains here. -promoted by desmoinesdem

If there is one group whose rights may be most immediately at risk following the election of Donald Trump to the Presidency of the United States, it isn’t refugees, or Muslims, or Mexicans, or women. It is those who are wed to their gay partners. The reason for that has a lot to do with a really poorly written and poorly reasoned United States Supreme Court ruling finding restrictions on marriage to those of different genders unconstitutional.

The ruling, Obergefell v. Hodges, does a couple of really bad injustices to gay married couples.

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Election results thread: Dark days ahead

Polls just closed in Iowa. Considered a heavy favorite to win the electoral college, Hillary Clinton is in serious danger of losing the presidency. Results from swing states to the east suggest that Donald Trump is outperforming Mitt Romney in heavily white working-class and rural areas. That doesn’t bode well for our state, even if early vote numbers suggested Clinton might have a chance.

Most of the battleground state House and Senate districts are overwhelmingly white. Republicans have been able to outspend Democrats in almost all of the targeted races. We could be looking at a GOP trifecta in Iowa for the first time since 1998.

I’ll be updating this post regularly as Iowa results come in. The Secretary of State will post results here.

No surprise: the U.S. Senate race was called for Chuck Grassley immediately. He led all the late opinion polls by comfortable double-digit margins.

The rest of the updates are after the jump.

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A look at the campaign to retain Iowa's Supreme Court justices

The last three Iowa Supreme Court justices involved in the landmark 2009 marriage equality ruling are on the ballot this year: Chief Justice Mark Cady (author of the Varnum v Brien decision) and Justices Brent Appel and Daryl Hecht. However, this year’s Iowa judicial retention elections aren’t getting much attention, largely because social conservative groups decided not to engage heavily in the fight.

By this point in 2010, television commercials calling for a “no” vote on three Iowa Supreme Court justices had been on the air for six weeks. Bob Vander Plaats and allies were holding “Judge Bus” events across Iowa. In a radio ad, Representative Steve King urged listeners to “vote ‘no’ on Judges [Marsha] Ternus, [Michael] Streit and [David] Baker” to “send a message against judicial arrogance.” For about a month before the 2012 general election, conservative groups paid for tv ads asking Iowans to “hold [Justice] David Wiggins accountable for redefining marriage and legislating from the bench.”

In contrast, Vander Plaats and like-minded Iowans have made a lower-key case against Cady, Appel, and Hecht, largely relying on e-mail, social media postings, and letters to the editor. They probably realized a full-court press was unlikely to succeed in a presidential election year. Nor did they have a way to fund a more extensive anti-retention campaign, with the biggest donor from 2010 and 2012 staying on the sidelines this year.

Supporters of retaining the Supreme Court justices are taking no chances, though. Two groups are leading the fight to persuade and remind voters to mark “yes” for all Iowa judges, especially Cady, Appel, and Hecht. I enclose below a sampling of messages from the Justice Not Politics coalition and the Iowa State Bar Association.

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Coalition will work to expand felon voting rights in Iowa

Iowa’s leading civil rights advocacy groups have joined forces, fighting for changes that would allow thousands of Iowans who have completed felony sentences to “be full members of society and exercise their right to vote.” The seventeen groups in the new Restore Fair Voting Rights in Iowa coalition include the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa, the Iowa-Nebraska NAACP, and the League of Women Voters of Iowa.

Their efforts are badly needed, because even after two “streamlinings” of the process Governor Terry Branstad established on his first day back in office, an embarrassingly small number of Iowans have regained the right to vote.

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Rest in peace, Larry Hoch

One of the plaintiffs in Iowa’s historic Varnum v Brien case passed away late last week. As Tom Witosky and Marc Hansen described in their book Equal Before the Law: How Iowa Led Americans to Marriage Equality, Larry Hoch was a middle-school teacher in his late 50s when he met David Twombley online in 2000. A few years later, he moved from New York to Des Moines to be with Twombley.

The couple had already entered into a civil union in Vermont, but our state didn’t recognize the legal status of their relationship. So when Camilla Taylor, an attorney for the LGBT advocacy group Lambda Legal, reached out in the summer of 2005, looking for plaintiffs in a case that would challenge Iowa’s Defense of Marriage Act, Hoch agreed immediately without consulting Twombley. The two men jokingly called themselves the “Old Fart Couple,” since they were much older than the five other couples who joined the lawsuit.

Hoch and Twombly unsuccessfully applied for a Polk County marriage license in November 2005. The lawsuit was filed the following month. Polk County District Court Judge Robert Hanson heard oral arguments in May 2007 and found Iowa’s ban on same-sex marriage to be unconstitutional in August of that year. His ruling was stayed pending appeal to the Iowa Supreme Court, where seven justices unanimously affirmed the decision in April 2009, allowing the Varnum plaintiffs and others to marry the person of their choice, regardless of gender.

Speaking to the Des Moines Register’s Molly Longman, One Iowa executive director Donna Red Wing described Hoch as an “incredible, sweet man” and said he was a regular at LGBT events in central Iowa: “I think for the community to see this older couple — they weren’t exactly spring chickens — engage so passionately in the fight for equality was so important.” Twombley told Longman, “We were both very proud to have been a part of history. We’ve had numerous gay couples that have married that know us or know of us, and they’ve gone out of their way to thank us for what we did for them.”

Although my life was not directly affected by the Varnum case, all Iowans should be grateful for what Hoch and the other plaintiffs did to promote fairness and equality in our state. Without their lawsuit, thousands of LGBT couples in Iowa would have had to wait six more years (until the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell) to obtain the legal and psychological benefits of being married. Witosky and Hansen wrote that Hoch and Twombley “weren’t the first couple the [Lambda Legal] organization had contacted. […] Several Des Moines area couples had been approached but declined for a variety of reasons, mostly because of the attention the case would attract.” After living in the closet for most of his adult life, Hoch risked becoming a target for haters in order to take a stand. May his memory be a blessing.

P.S.- Chief Justice Mark Cady, the author of the Varnum decision, and Supreme Court Justices Brent Appel and Daryl Hecht are up for retention this year statewide. Polk County voters will also see Judge Hanson’s name on the ballot. Please remember to mark yes for them all when you vote.

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