The Cady Court: Same As It Ever Was?

First-person accounts of politically-oriented events are always welcome here. Thanks to IowaBadger for this perspective. -promoted by desmoinesdem

Chief Justice Mark Cady’s leadership of the Iowa Supreme Court has been bookended by two major cases. First came his unanimous majority opinion in the Varnum v. Brien decision recognizing marriage equality under the Iowa Constitution, resulting in the defeat of then Chief Justice Marsha Ternus (and two other justices) in the 2010 retention election, and Cady’s elevation to Chief Justice. Then, several weeks ago, was his 4-3 majority opinion in Griffin v. Pate, deciding that the Iowa Constitution’s prohibition against voting by anyone who has committed an "infamous crime" bars anyone with a felony conviction from voting, absent a restoration of voting rights from the governor.

Yesterday, the Des Moines Register held an event entitled "The Cady Court At Five," which gave five panelists the opportunity to talk about both cases, and how the court has gotten from one to the other. Anyone hoping for post July 4th fireworks would have been disappointed, and anyone hoping for definitive answers will have to heed desmoinesdem’s post from yesterday recognizing that we will only understand Justice Cady’s rationale for his vote in Griffin and its seeming inconsistency with his previous opinion in Chiodo v. Panel when he’s interviewed about it years down the road. But for those of us who follow the Iowa Supreme Court closely, we did gain some insight into the Chief Justice’s thinking and what that might mean for future decisions.

Continue Reading...

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."

Continue Reading...

Three paths to expanding felon voting rights in Iowa

A week ago today, four Iowa Supreme Court justices upheld the lifetime ban on voting for Iowans convicted of all felonies, which are defined as "infamous crimes" under a 1994 state law. Chief Justice Mark Cady’s opinion in Griffin v. Pate and three dissents are available here; Bleeding Heartland posted key excerpts here.

A decision in Kelli Jo Griffin’s favor could have made tens of thousands of Iowans newly eligible to vote in this year’s presidential election. Instead, Iowa will likely retain its place as one of the most restrictive states on felon voting for years.

In theory, those who have completed sentences can apply to have Governor Terry Branstad restore their voting rights. Griffin plans to do so, and I expect Branstad to make a big show of approving her application. In practice, though, that option will be available only to a small minority of those affected by the governor’s January 2011 executive order. During the first five years the new policy was in effect, less than two-tenths of 1 percent of disenfranchised felons managed to regain the right to vote, an average of fewer than 20 people per year.

I am awaiting information from the governor’s office on restoration numbers since the latest "streamlining" of the official form in April, but I don’t expect the number of applicants ever to become more than a trickle. The financial and other barriers will remain too great.

Even if Branstad started receiving substantially more applications and approved them at a rate of 20 per week—unlikely since this work already occupies "meaningful amounts of time every day" for the governor’s staff—only about 1,000 people annually would be able to regain their voting rights. That’s less than 2 percent of the estimated 57,000 Iowans who have been disenfranchised since January 2011. Thousands more join their ranks every year. So much for an "efficient and convenient" restoration process.

Three paths are available to bring Iowa in line with how most states approach voting rights for people with felony convictions.

Continue Reading...

Divided Iowa Supreme Court upholds felon voting ban; key points and political reaction

The Iowa Supreme Court has rejected a lawsuit challenging state policy on disenfranchising all felons. Four justices found "insufficient evidence to overcome the 1994 legislative judgment" defining all felonies as "infamous crimes," which under our state’s constitution lead to a lifetime ban on the right to vote or run for office. Chief Justice Mark Cady wrote the majority ruling, joined by Justices Bruce Zager, Edward Mansfield, and Thomas Waterman. They affirmed a district court ruling, which held that having committed a felony, Kelli Jo Griffin lost her voting rights under Iowa law.

Justices Brent Appel, Daryl Hecht, and David Wiggins wrote separate dissenting opinions, each joined by the other dissenters. I enclose below excerpts from all the opinions, along with early political reaction to the majority ruling and a statement from Griffin herself.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa filed the lawsuit on behalf of Griffin in November 2014, seven months after an Iowa Supreme Court plurality had stated, "It will be prudent for us to develop a more precise test that distinguishes between felony crimes and infamous crimes" that disqualify Iowans from voting.

Three of the six justices who participated in that 2014 case decided Griffin v. Pate differently. In Chiodo v. Section 43.24 Panel, Cady wrote and Zager joined the plurality opinion, which left open the possibility that not all felonies rise to the level of infamous crimes. Wiggins dissented from the Chiodo plurality, saying the court should not rewrite "nearly one hundred years of caselaw" to "swim into dangerous and uncharted waters."

All credit to Ryan Koopmans for pointing out in March that given how quickly the court had decided Chiodo, "Having had more than a couple days to think about it, some of the justices could easily change their mind." The justices were on a compressed schedule in Chiodo because of the need to print ballots in time for the early voting period starting 40 days before the 2014 Democratic primary. Ned Chiodo was challenging the eligibility of Tony Bisignano, a rival candidate in Iowa Senate district 17.

Side note before I get to the key points from today’s decisions: An enormous opportunity was missed when the state legislature did not revise the 1994 law defining infamous crimes between 2007 and 2010, when Democrats controlled the Iowa House and Senate and Chet Culver was governor. The issue did not seem particularly salient then, because Governor Tom Vilsack’s 2005 executive order had created a process for automatically restoring the voting rights of most felons who had completed their sentences.

But Governor Terry Branstad rescinded Vilsack’s order on his first day back in office in January 2011. During the first five years after Branstad’s executive order, fewer than 100 people (two-tenths of 1 percent of those who had been disenfranchised) successfully navigated the process for regaining voting rights. I consider the policy an unofficial poll tax, because getting your rights back requires an investment of time and resources that most ex-felons do not have. Today’s majority decision leaves this policy in effect, with a massively disproportionate impact on racial minorities.

Continue Reading...

Weekend open thread: Trade-offs

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.

Lawsuit claims secret Harreld meetings violated Iowa law

A retired University of Iowa employee has filed suit to nullify last year’s hiring of University President Bruce Harreld, on the grounds that five members of the Iowa Board of Regents violated the state’s open meetings law, Ryan Foley reported yesterday for the Associated Press.

I enclose below more background on the case as well as the full text of the plaintiff’s court filing.

Continue Reading...
View More...