What’s on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? This is an open thread: all topics welcome.
Prestage Farms didn’t get the incentives package it wanted from Mason City, but the company is actively seeking other communities in Iowa willing to offer tax breaks in exchange for a $240 million pork processing plant. Unfortunately, the construction of that and other proposed new plants "could push some older plants in Iowa and Nebraska to close," Donnelle Eller reported for the Des Moines Register on Friday. I assume Governor Terry Branstad’s administration will count the jobs created in the new facilities but not the jobs lost if and when plants close if Perry (Dallas County), Columbus Junction (Louisa County), and Denison (Crawford County).
According to a new report by the Brennan Center for Justice, white males comprise about 37.5 percent of the U.S. population but 66 percent of appellate state court judges. Currently five men (four white, one Asian-American) and four women (three white, one Asian-American) serve on the Iowa Court of Appeals. All seven Iowa Supreme Court justices have been white men since 2011. No non-white judges have ever served on our state’s high court, and only two women have done so. Governor Terry Branstad appointed Linda Neuman to the Supreme Court in 1986; she served until her retirement in 2003. Branstad appointed Marsha Ternus in 1993; she became chief justice in 2006, an office she held until Iowans voted against retaining her and two other justices in 2010.
Following those retention elections, the State Judicial Nominating Commission recommended nine candidates to fill the three Supreme Court vacancies. Twelve women were among the 60 candidates who applied to serve, but only one woman ended up on the short list: a University of Iowa professor whom Branstad would never appoint. I suspect some commissioners passed over several women with strong qualifications, hoping to make Branstad look bad by picking an all-male trio of justices.
Diversity improves the judiciary, so in theory, I would like to see more gender and racial balance on the Iowa Supreme Court. Thinking pragmatically, I am in no hurry to give the governor another high court vacancy to fill, especially now that he has appointed a bunch of conservatives to the State Judicial Nominating Commission, which reduces the applicant pool to a few finalists. Some important cases in recent years have led to 4-3 split decisions. On several occasions—relating to open meetings law, solar power project financing, a key administrative rule on water quality, and multiple cases about juvenile sentencing—the three dissenters were Branstad’s 2011 nominees. Three justices are up for retention this November. They won’t be ousted because of the 2009 Varnum v. Brien case, because LGBT marriage equality is now settled law. However, I’m concerned anti-retention forces could exploit a backlash against a possible divided court ruling to expand felon voting rights. The Supreme Court is expected to announce a decision in the Griffin v. Pate case on felon disenfranchisement later this month.
Speaking of white male judges, mass outrage over the light sentence given to convicted rapist Brock Turner seems to have been the talk of everyone’s town this past week. The victim’s powerful impact statement, Vice President Joe Biden’s open letter to the victim, and many other reactions to the case have gone viral.
On the plus side, the Brock Turner case has raised awareness about rape culture, victim-blaming, and judges empathizing with wealthy white male defendants. One of the best commentaries I’ve read on the sentencing was by California defense attorney Ken White. He explained why Turner is the "sort of defendant who is spared ‘severe impact.’"
But some sexual assault survivors have found it overwhelming to see reminders of their worst experiences all over their social media feeds, day after day. The letter from the rapist’s father may have struck a sympathetic chord with the sentencing judge but was painful for many women to read. (One friend: you can tell that guy’s never been on the receiving end of "20 minutes of action.") If news about the Stanford rape case is triggering traumatic memories for you, Peter Levine’s work on healing trauma may be helpful.