District Court upholds Iowa law, Branstad executive order on disenfranchising felons

Polk County District Court Chief Judge Arthur Gamble on Monday dismissed a lawsuit that challenged Iowa’s restrictions on felon voting and procedure for regaining voting rights after a felony conviction. Kelli Jo Griffin filed the lawsuit last November, having previously been acquitted on perjury charges related to registering to vote and casting a ballot in a local election. Griffin did not realize she was ineligible to vote because of a prior drug conviction. The American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa is representing her in the case, which claims Iowa law and an executive order Governor Terry Branstad issued in January 2011 unconstitutionally restrict the plaintiff’s fundamental right to vote.

A plurality of three Iowa Supreme Court justices indicated last April that they do not believe all felonies rise to the level of “infamous crimes,” which under the Iowa Constitution justify revoking citizenship rights. But that opinion did not strike down current Iowa law, which holds that any felony conviction leads to the loss of voting rights. Chief Judge Gamble noted in his ruling that he is bound by precedent on felon voting cases “until a majority of the Iowa Supreme Court” rules otherwise.

The chief judge also determined that Branstad’s executive order does not unconstitutionally restrict Griffin’s voting rights, because the paperwork and fees required are “not an unreasonable burden for a felon to shoulder.” His conclusions don’t acknowledge certain realities about the arduous process Branstad established, which “made Iowa one of the most difficult states in the nation for felons who want to vote” and create more hurdles for low-income Iowans than for those with financial resources. I enclose more thoughts on that angle below, after excerpts from Gamble’s ruling.

The ACLU will appeal the District Court’s decision to the Iowa Supreme Court. Ever since an unlikely chain of events opened the door for the high court to re-examine felon voting rights, it’s been obvious some non-violent offender like Griffin would bring a test case resembling this one. The big question now is whether Justice Brent Appel, who recused himself from last year’s related case, will align with his three colleagues who appear ready to declare that certain felonies are not “infamous crimes.”

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Hell, hell, the gang's all here

(Interesting look at key points and possible effects of Iowa Code on criminal gang participation and gang recruitment, adopted 25 years ago. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

The New York Times Magazine featured an article around the life of a former gang member and addict, Dr. Jesse De La Cruz, who currently serves as an expert witness in some California jury trials.  His testimony has convinced juries on some occasions that a person is not a gang member.  That’s not to say that the defendant was not convicted of a crime; it’s just that he wasn’t convicted of being a gang member.

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Iowa Board of Medicine not ready to face reality on telemed abortion or court appeals process

Nearly two weeks ago, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional the state ban on using telemedicine for abortion. The unanimous decision is the end of the line for a rule the Iowa Board of Medicine adopted in the absence of medical evidence.

Yet Governor Terry Branstad isn’t the only person reluctant to take the Iowa Supreme Court’s no, no, no, no, no, no for an answer. Tony Leys reported for the Des Moines Register on Tuesday, “The Iowa Board of Medicine has huddled three times with its lawyers since losing a key state Supreme Court case this month, but has not yet decided whether to appeal or accept the decision.”

I don’t know what’s more surprising: that after three meetings, those attorneys still haven’t persuaded board members to quit while they’re behind, or that board members who didn’t participate in making the unconstitutional rule are considering hitching their wagons to this cause.

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Branstad not ready to face reality on telemed abortion or court appeals process

A unanimous Supreme Court ruling against your position is usually a sign that your legal arguments lack merit. But Governor Terry Branstad hasn’t learned that lesson from his administration being on the wrong end of not one, not two, but three unanimous Iowa Supreme Court rulings.

Last week, the court ruled with no dissenting justices that Iowa’s ban on using telemedicine to provide abortion services is unconstitutional. Three of the justices who concurred in the decision are Branstad appointees (Chief Justice Mark Cady and Justices Edward Mansfield and Thomas Waterman). Two of them—Waterman and Mansfield—have demonstrated in previous cases that they are reluctant to substitute their judgment for that of executive branch bodies responsible for rulemaking. Yet Branstad not only rejects the reasoning underlying the telemedicine ruling, but also refuses to accept legal experts’ determination that his administration cannot appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.  

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Five key points about the Iowa Supreme Court striking down the telemedicine abortion ban

The Iowa Supreme Court ruled unanimously yesterday that Iowa’s ban on the use of telemedicine to provide abortion services was unconstitutional because it imposed an "undue burden" on women seeking an abortion. You can read the whole ruling here (pdf). I’ve posted highlights after the jump, along with some reaction to the decision from both sides in the debate.

A few points are worth remembering.

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