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Judiciary

Shorter Terry Branstad: It's good to be the king

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Apr 07, 2015 at 20:26:59 PM CDT

Governor Terry Branstad made a remarkable claim at his latest press conference: because "the people of Iowa elected me to reduce the size and cost of government," he has the authority to "make tough decisions" on closing state-run mental health facilities and reorganizing Medicaid services for more than half a million Iowans.

To justify his position, Branstad channeled President Harry Truman: "The buck stops with me." But his view of governance reminds me more of Mel Brooks in the movie "History of the World, Part 1": "It's good to be the king."

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Mid-week open thread: Pregnancy discrimination edition

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Mar 25, 2015 at 23:15:00 PM CDT

All topics are welcome in this open thread. What news stories captured your attention lately?

Although Congress acted during the 1970s to ban employers from discriminating against pregnant women, both attorneys and women have told me over the years that pregnancy discrimination remains common in the workplace. The U.S. Supreme Court weighed in today in the case of Young v. United Parcel Service. I enclose below some links about this important ruling.

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Branstad insists he pressured Workers' Comp official because of business, not bias

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Mar 19, 2015 at 10:17:05 AM CDT

New details have emerged about Governor Terry Branstad's testimony in the lawsuit Iowa's former Workers' Compensation Commissioner filed three years ago, charging discrimination, defamation, and other claims. Ryan Foley of the Associated Press reported highlights from the transcript of Branstad's deposition last November.
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State drops appeal in case on purging Iowa voter rolls

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Mar 13, 2015 at 19:59:49 PM CDT

Who's up for some good news on Friday the 13th? Part of former Secretary of State Matt Schultz's legacy of voter suppression died today. The Iowa Supreme Court will not hear an appeal of a District Court decision that invalidated Schultz's effort to enact rules on purging Iowa voter rolls. The court dismissed the case at the request of the Secretary of State's Office.
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Iowa Supreme Court: Sioux City traffic cameras don't violate constitutional rights or state law

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Feb 20, 2015 at 12:10:00 PM CST

The Iowa Supreme Court has unanimously upheld a District Court ruling that held a man responsible for a speeding ticket issued under Sioux City's Automated Traffic Enforcement Ordinance. You can read Justice Brent Appel's whole decision here (pdf). Michael Jacobsma employed several legal arguments in his suit challenging the speeding ticket:

The defendant sought dismissal of the citation on constitutional grounds, claiming enforcement of the ordinance violated the Due Process Clauses of the Iowa and Federal Constitutions, the inalienable rights clause of the Iowa Constitution, and the Iowa municipal home rule amendment that prohibits cities from enacting ordinances that conflict with state law.

Pages 2 through 7 cover background on Sioux City's ordinance, Jacobsma's ticket, and his legal challenge. Pages 7 through 23 explore the extensive federal and state case law on due process challenges against similar ordinances. Key points: the ordinance allows vehicle owners to present evidence indicating that they were not driving at the time of the alleged traffic violation, but Jacobsma never did so. Furthermore, since this case involves only civil penalties (a fine) rather than criminal penalties, there is less of a burden on the government to prove Jacobsma was operating the vehicle when it was traveling at 67 miles per hour in a 55 mph zone.

Pages 24 through 32 address Jacobsma's claim that the presumption in the Sioux City traffic camera ordinance violates his "inalienable rights" under the U.S. and Iowa Constitutions. After going through lots of court rulings on inalienable rights clauses, Appel notes that many "cases hold that liberty or property rights enumerated in the inalienable rights clauses of state constitutions are subject to reasonable regulations in the public interest." The Iowa Supreme Court justices agreed, "there is no doubt that the regulation to control speeding on state highways gives rise to a public interest generally."

Pages 33 through 35 address Jacobsma's claim that the Sioux City ordinance is invalid because it conflicts with state law. Here the controlling case law is Davenport v Seymour, a 2008 Iowa Supreme Court decision also authored by Appel. That ruling upheld the city of Davenport's use of traffic cameras. Today's ruling concludes that Sioux City's rules on tickets issued by traffic cameras are "consistent with substantive state law related to speeding" and not "irreconcilable" with the various Iowa Code provisions cited by Jacobsma.

Speaking to Radio Iowa's Dar Danielson, Jacobsma said he is disappointed with today's ruling but respects the Iowa Supreme Court's opinion.

The high court may eventually consider a different case related to Sioux City's traffic cameras. Last year, city officials filed a lawsuit claiming the Iowa Department of Transportation exceeded its authority when it issued rules restricting local governments' use of automated traffic enforcement systems. That case is scheduled to be heard in Woodbury County District Court this May.

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Weekend open thread: Love and marriage equality edition

by: desmoinesdem

Sun Feb 15, 2015 at 15:21:03 PM CST

What's on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? I'm not big on "Hallmark holidays," but if Valentine's Day (or "co-opting Valentine's Day") is your thing, I hope you enjoyed February 14. This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

I wanted to catch up on news from a couple of weeks ago, which may continue to reverberate during the Republican Iowa caucus campaign. The owners of Görtz Haus agreed to settle with a gay couple who had wanted to get married at their venue in Grimes. Betty and Richard Odgaard are Mennonites who don't believe in same-sex marriage. Since the law doesn't allow them to discriminate against LGBT couples, they have decided not to hold any weddings at their place of business. They also dropped their own doomed-to-fail lawsuit against the Iowa Civil Rights Commission. Clips with background on the episode and reaction to its resolution are after the jump.

Social conservatives are outraged over what they see as an assault on religious freedom. Both talk radio host Steve Deace and Bob Vander Plaats' organization The FAMiLY Leader have indicated that the Görtz Haus controversy will be a salient issue in the coming presidential campaign.

What these folks can't acknowledge is that no one is forcing the Odgaards or anyone else to approve of or "celebrate" gay weddings. Many of us have ethical or religious objections to some marriages; for instance, if the couple began dating while married to other people, or if one person appears to be marrying solely for money, or if there is a large age gap between the spouses. Plenty of Jews and Christians would disapprove of my own interfaith marriage. No one is demanding that the whole world applaud every marriage, only that the religious beliefs of some don't interfere with the civil rights of others.

Additionally, it's important to note that no house of worship in Iowa has ever been forced to hold same-sex weddings. If the Odgaards ran a church, they would be fully within their rights to refuse to serve LGBT couples. Görtz Haus is a for-profit business, subject to the same civil rights statutes as other public venues.  

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Iowans haven't heard the last from Brenna (Findley) Bird

by: desmoinesdem

Sat Feb 07, 2015 at 16:18:43 PM CST

Governor Terry Branstad's office announced on Thursday that Brenna Bird (whose maiden name was Findley) is stepping down as the governor's legal counsel "to pursue opportunities in the private sector." Her LinkedIn profile hasn't been updated yet, so it's not clear whether Bird is returning to the Des Moines-based Whitaker Hagenow law firm. She joined that firm in 2010 after leaving Representative Steve King's staff, but did not practice much law, since she was running for Iowa attorney general full-time.

Branstad named Bird as his legal counsel shortly after the 2010 election. She appears to have influenced several of the governor's policy choices. At one time, Branstad had supported a mandate to purchase health insurance, but soon after being inaugurated in 2011, he joined a lawsuit to overturn the federal health care reform law (a key issue in Bird's unsuccessful attorney general campaign). Branstad's legal counsel also appears to have helped convince Branstad to change his position on banning lead shot for hunting mourning doves in Iowa. When the state legislature refused to overturn a rule mandating non-toxic ammunition, Bird worked several angles to overturn a rule adopted by the state Natural Resource Commission.

Bird's work as legal counsel has also gotten the Branstad administration involved in some major litigation. In 2011, she participated in efforts to pressure Iowa's Workers Compensation Commissioner to resign before the end of his fixed term. As a result, she and the governor, along with other former staffers, are co-defendants in a lawsuit filed by the former workers' compensation commissioner.

In 2013, Bird was a key contact for Iowans seeking to ban the use of telemedicine for providing medical abortions in Planned Parenthood clinics. As the Iowa Board of Medicine considered a new rule containing verbatim wording from anti-abortion activists, the state Attorney General's Office "cautioned the board against moving so quickly." But as the governor's counsel, Bird encouraged board members to adopt the telemedicine abortion ban immediately. Planned Parenthood's lawsuit challenging that rule is pending with the Iowa Supreme Court.

Bird may be leaving the public sector for now, but I suspect Iowans will see her name on a ballot before too long. She reportedly considered running for Congress last year in Iowa's third district and has served on the Republican Party of Iowa's State Central Committee since last June. I could easily see Bird running for a Republican-leaning Iowa House or Senate seat if one were to open up in central Iowa. Alternatively, she and 2014 attorney general nominee Adam Gregg (now Iowa's state public defender) are likely GOP candidates for attorney general in 2018.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread. After the jump I've enclosed a press release on Bird's departure from the governor's staff, with background on Michael Bousselot, her successor as legal counsel.  

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Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice calls for action on racial disparity, courthouse security

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Jan 14, 2015 at 14:32:36 PM CST

Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Cady delivered his annual State of the Judiciary address to Iowa House and Senate members this morning. The full text is available here (pdf), and I've posted important sections after the jump. Cady hailed progress the court system is making on helping Iowa children and improving efficiency and transparency. He described ongoing initiatives to improve how Iowa courts handle family law cases and review guardianship and conservatorship laws and procedures. Cady also asked lawmakers to appropriate 4.7 percent more funding for the court system in the next fiscal year.

Cady cited recent work within the judicial branch to "better understand and address the persistence of racial disparities" in the criminal justice system--a longstanding problem in Iowa. I enclosed below reaction from Assistant House Minority Leader Ako Abdul-Samad. Abdul-Samad is one of five African-American members of the Iowa House.

Finally, the chief justice alluded to a shooting last September during a meeting of the Jackson County Board of Supervisors as he called for action "to make every courthouse in Iowa safer and more secure."

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.

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Final news roundup of how Harkin and Grassley voted

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Dec 17, 2014 at 19:36:37 PM CST

Senator Tom Harkin cast his final votes in Congress yesterday as the upper chamber wrapped up the lame-duck session. He and Senator Chuck Grassley were on opposite sides as Democrats confirmed a batch of presidential nominees on Monday and Tuesday. You can view all the roll calls here; the nominees were approved mostly along party lines. They included several judges and assistant secretaries of various agencies and Dr. Vivek Murthy, confirmed as surgeon general by 51 votes to 43, with only one Republican yes vote. Murthy had been the target of a relentless "smear campaign" by conservative media and the National Rifle Association, because of his comment in October 2012 that "Guns are a health care issue."

The conservative media attacks against Murthy began in early March. Coverage of his nomination focused on his past acknowledgement that gun violence affects public health, which conservative media spun as evidence Murthy is obsessed with gun regulations. (Murthy has actually said his focus as Surgeon General will not be on gun violence, but rather obesity.)

Because of strange Senate procedural rules, hardline conservative Republican Senator Ted Cruz inadvertently made this week's raft of confirmations possible. His constitutional point of order against the massive federal government funding bill last Friday prompted Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to convene the chamber on Saturday. That gave Democrats more time to set up confirmation votes on nominees this Monday and Tuesday. Rebecca Kaplan of CBS News explained here that the most controversial presidential nominees to be confirmed "thanks to Ted Cruz" are Murthy, Tony Blinken for Deputy Secretary of State, and Sarah Saldaña, for Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director in the Department of Homeland Security. Harkin voted for and Grassley against all of those nominees.

Iowa's senators ended up on the same side in one big vote this week: the bill extending dozens of tax breaks for corporations and individuals. Steven Dennis noted in Roll Call,

Handing out mostly corporate tax breaks and adding to the debt to do it has proven to be a popular thing for Congress. Democrats including President Barack Obama spent the better part of 2013 trying to get Republicans to agree to more revenue as part of a budget deal, but are now signing on to deficit expansion for the sake of tax breaks that will expire, again, in two weeks.

Usually, these tax breaks - which range from the R&D tax break to breaks for NASCAR, racehorse owners and wind farms - are touted as incentives - and indeed some senators called them that Tuesday. But it's hard to retroactively incentivize anything - a point made on the Senate floor by outgoing Finance Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who voted no and said the tax bill didn't even have the shelf life of a carton of eggs. [...] After President Barack Obama threatened to veto an emerging deal after the midterms that would have added close to half a trillion to the debt over a decade, the scaled-back bill was all Congress could muster.

The tax extenders bill passed by 76 votes to 16. Joining Iowa's senators in the yes column were possible GOP presidential candidates Cruz, Rand Paul, and Marco Rubio. Opponents of this bill included Republican Rob Portman and Democrat Elizabeth Warren. Independent Bernie Sanders, who is exploring a presidential campaign as a Democrat, missed yesterday's votes because he was in Iowa.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread. Grassley's official statement on the tax extenders bill is after the jump.

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Senate roundup: Harkin, Grassley against funding deal, split on other votes

by: desmoinesdem

Sun Dec 14, 2014 at 10:27:58 AM CST

Senator Tom Harkin cast his last votes in Congress over the weekend. After the jump I've posted the video and full transcript of Harkin's final speech on the U.S. Senate floor, delivered on December 12. He and Iowa's senior Senator Chuck Grassley were at odds in many roll-call votes these past two days. However, they both voted against the $1.1 trillion government funding bill senators passed late Saturday night. The 56 to 40 roll call reveals an unusual bipartisan split. Yes votes came from 32 Democrats and 24 Republicans, while 21 Democrats and 19 Republicans voted no. Liberals like Harkin found plenty to dislike in the so-called "cromnibus" spending bill. Notably, it included a big change to the Dodd-Frank financial reform law, which was literally written by one of the large banks that will benefit. The spending bill also includes a "big coal giveaway", big cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency budget, and several other bad environmental provisions. What Democrats supposedly got out of the "cromnibus" wasn't worth it in my opinion.

Just before the final vote on the spending bill, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas raised a constitutional point of order:

"If you believe President Obama's executive order was unconstitutional vote yes," Cruz said ahead of the vote on Saturday. "If you think the president's executive order is constitutional vote no."

Only 22 senators voted with Cruz and 74 voted against his point of order.

The roll call shows that Grassley was one of the Republicans who voted for the point of order. The group included several senators who may run for president (Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Rob Portman) and a bunch of Republicans who are up for re-election in 2016 and presumably want to avoid a GOP primary challenge.

Many of the Republicans who opposed Cruz's motion (including the Senate GOP leadership team) probably were motivated by the desire to avoid a government shutdown. Nevertheless, they are now on record voting no when Cruz said such a vote signified a belief that "the president's executive order is constitutional."

Also on Saturday, senators approved on party lines a series of motions to advance judicial nominees. Here Harkin and Grassley were on opposite sides. In fact, disagreements over whether to vote on these nominations delayed a final vote on the spending bill. Harkin and other Democrats backed all the nominations. Grassley will chair the Senate Judiciary Committee when the new Congress convenes and has promised more vigorous oversight of nominations. He objected to moving the judicial nominations during the lame-duck session, even though many of the nominees were non-controversial and had been approved by a Judiciary Committee voice vote. In fact, Republican senators from Illinois and Texas had recommended some of these nominees for federal judgeships.

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Chutzpah alert: Branstad as defender of the separation of powers

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Dec 03, 2014 at 19:58:40 PM CST

In the busy days before Thanksgiving, I missed this unintentional comedy from Governor Terry Branstad's weekly press conference (hat tip to Todd Dorman):

"There's also a constitutional question about whether the president of the United States has the authority to act unilaterally on issues like this [immigration policy]," Branstad said. "So I expect there's going to be a lot of unanswered questions that I need to get information about and what the impact would have on our state."

Asked if he would take executive action on state immigration policy, Branstad responded, "We don't operate that way in Iowa."

"That's the difference between Washington, D.C., and Iowa," Branstad said. "In Iowa, I'm very careful to recognize the separation of powers and to work with the Legislature."

Where to begin?

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Supreme Court denies Muscatine polluter's last-ditch effort to block nuisance lawsuit

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Dec 02, 2014 at 09:55:00 AM CST

A group of Muscatine residents will be able to pursue their nuisance lawsuit against the Grain Processing Corporation, one of the area's major polluters for many years. Yesterday the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the company's appeal of a unanimous Iowa Supreme Court decision allowing the lawsuit to be heard in Iowa District Court. The company had argued that the federal Clean Air Act preempts claims like the ones the Muscatine residents are making. (You can see Grain Processing Corp v. Freeman, Laurie, et al on a long list of cases in which the Supreme Court denied certiorari.)

There is no guarantee that the Muscatine residents will win their nuisance lawsuit, but now a District Court will consider the merits of their case. Plaintiffs claim that the Grain Processing Corporation's facility exposes locals to dangerous levels of air pollution, damages their property, and reduces property values.

UPDATE: Jason Liegois reported for the Muscatine Journal,

Environmental groups, including Clean Air Muscatine, supported the lawsuit, but business groups said regulation of air pollution should be left to state and federal agencies and not judged on a case-by-case basis.

"We are disappointed in the decision" GPC spokesperson Janet Sichterman, stated in an to the Muscatine Journal. "GPC, and others, strongly contend that regulation of air emissions is not the responsibility of the courts, rather the responsibility of the EPA and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (IDNR)."

Sichterman also pointed out GPC's plan to transition from using coal to natural gas boilers, which would nearly eliminate sulfur dioxide and lead, among other emissions. The company is doing this as part of an agreement between the state and GPC, which also saw the company pay a $1.5 million fine to settle a lawsuit against the company filed by Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller. In addition, GPC is investing nearly $100 million in a dryer house project and other environmental control technology. [...]

GPC, a subsidiary company of the Muscatine-based Kent Corp., operates a plant that turns corn kernels into products ranging from corn syrup to ethyl alcohol. A regional economic force, the company buys $400 million in corn from farmers annually and is one of the area's largest employers. [...]

Sichterman said the case is in the discovery phase, where it is expected to remain until at least the summer of 2015.

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House sues Obama administration over health care reform law

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Nov 24, 2014 at 07:35:00 AM CST

On Friday the U.S. House of Representatives filed a federal lawsuit challenging several aspects of how the Obama administration has implemented the 2010 Affordable Care Act. You can read the plaintiffs' full case here (pdf) against two cabinet secretaries and the agencies they lead. The main arguments are that the Obama administration broke the law by delaying the employer mandate to provide health insurance, and also by providing certain payments to health insurance companies without having Congress appropriate those funds. The first point was expected, but the second argument surprised even those who have closely followed the political battle over Obamacare. Sarah Kliff explained the challenged payments and how they fit into the law. Ashley Parker reported for the New York Times, "If the lawsuit is successful, poor people would not lose their health care, because the insurance companies would still be required to provide coverage - but without the help of the government subsidy, the companies might be forced to raise costs elsewhere."

In contrast, the legal challenge to delaying the employer mandate is more "symbolic," as that provision of the Affordable Care Act will have gone into effect by the time this lawsuit works its way through federal courts.

House Republicans voted to authorize this lawsuit shortly before going on a long summer recess. Iowa's four representatives split on party lines, with Republicans Tom Latham (IA-03) and Steve King (IA-04) supporting the measure and Bruce Braley (IA-01) and Dave Loebsack (IA-02) opposed, along with every other House Democrat present. At the time, the lawsuit was perceived as House Speaker John Boehner's way of deflecting conservative sentiment toward drafting articles of impeachment. At times this fall, Congress-watchers wondered whether the lawsuit would go forward, as two major law firms worked on the case for a while before declining to participate in litigation. A conservative legal scholar eventually took the case.

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Senate roundup: Harkin, Grassley split on Keystone XL, limits on NSA spying, and judges

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Nov 19, 2014 at 12:53:16 PM CST

Iowa's Senators Chuck Grassley and Tom Harkin rarely found themselves in agreement during a busy day on the Senate floor yesterday. A bill to force approval of the Keystone XL pipeline project fell one vote short of the 60-vote threshold to defeat a filibuster. The roll call shows that Grassley was among the 59 yes votes (all Republicans plus 14 Democrats), while Harkin was among the 41 Democrats who defeated the bill. Scroll to the end of this post to read Grassley's statement on the failure to pass this measure. He backs an "all-of-the-above approach to meet the country's energy needs and give consumers choice." He does not address the reality that oil transported via Keystone XL would likely be sold to foreign markets, having no effect on domestic gasoline prices.

Although several of the pro-Keystone Democrats just lost their seats in this year's elections, nine of them will continue to serve next year. That means future Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will have the votes to overcome a filibuster of future bills on the pipeline. He won't have the 67 votes needed to overcome a presidential veto, but Republicans have vowed to attach Keystone language to "must-pass" bills that President Barack Obama won't want to veto.

Senators also blocked a bill that would have attempted to rein in domestic surveillance by the National Security Agency. Timothy B. Lee wrote a good backgrounder on the USA Freedom Act. The cloture vote failed by 58 to 42. Like almost all the Senate Democrats, Harkin voted for proceeding to debate the bill. Like all but four Republicans, Grassley voted to block efforts to reduce NSA spying on Americans. Members of Congress will revisit this issue next year, but I'm not optimistic any reforms will pass.

Side note: among the senators who are possible Republican presidential candidates in 2016, Ted Cruz voted for the USA Freedom Act. Rand Paul and Marco Rubio voted no. Paul opposed the bill because it did not go far enough, in his view; Rubio voted no because he thought the bill would increase the risk of terrorist attacks in this country.

Last week and this week, the Senate has moved forward on several nominees for vacant judicial spots on U.S. district courts. Harkin supported confirming all of the president's nominees. Grassley voted against cloture on all of the nominations, but Republicans were not able to block any of them from a vote on the floor, because the 60-vote threshold no longer applies to most confirmations. (That could change when Republicans take control of the chamber in the new year.) On the confirmation votes themselves, Grassley opposed most of the judges nominated by the president, with one exception last week and another exception yesterday. Many expect judicial confirmations to stop happening when Grassley becomes chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, but perhaps he will let a few non-controversial nominees through.

A bill reauthorizing the Child Care and Development Block Grant gained massive bipartisan support on Monday, passing by 88 votes to 1. Both Grassley and Harkin backed this bill. In a statement I've enclosed after the jump, Harkin explained how this bill "will expand access to and improve the quality of child care for the more than 1.5 million children and families that benefit from the federal child care subsidy program." President Obama signed this bill today, and Representative Dave Loebsack (D, IA-02) attended the ceremony. He worked on the bill as ranking member of the House Education and Labor subcommittee that covers early childhood issues. I posted Loebsack's statement below Harkin's.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.

Note: Over the years I've written dozens of posts about Grassley and Harkin splitting on Senate votes. I expect that to end for the most part in January. If Joni Ernst votes differently from Grassley even five times over the next two years, I'll be shocked.

UPDATE: Added after the jump some of Harkin's recent comments on the Keystone XL pipeline.

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Weekend open thread, with health care reform links

by: desmoinesdem

Sat Nov 15, 2014 at 23:20:00 PM CST

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

The enrollment period for 2015 health insurance coverage began today and runs through February 15. Approximately "23,000 people nationwide successfully submitted applications to enroll or re-enroll in health insurance plans" today at Healthcare.gov. The Obama administration has set a target of 9.1 million enrollees for 2015. As of this past April, approximately 29,000 Iowans had selected a health insurance plan through the federal marketplace. But roughly double that number are eligible to enroll in a marketplace plan.

Democrats in the Iowa Senate advocated for creating a state portal where Iowans could buy health insurance under the 2010 Affordable Care Act. However, Governor Terry Branstad and Iowa House Republicans refused to go along, perhaps hoping that the health care reform law would be overturned in court or soon after the 2012 presidential election. So, Iowa formed a "partnership" exchange, whereby the state regulates insurance plans, but citizens purchase those plans on the website created and maintained by the federal government. That political decision may prove costly for tens of thousands of Iowans and millions of people in more than 30 other states.

On November 7, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal that could end tax credit subsidies for all Americans who purchase health insurance plans through the federal website. The SCOTUS blog has compiled links on the King v Burwell case here. Jonathan Cohn provides a concise explanation of how the lawsuit could "wreck Obamacare" if a Supreme Court majority finds in favor of plaintiffs, who argue that subsidies should be available only to people who purchase insurance on state exchanges.

Brianne Gorod argues here that the Supreme Court should "recognize what the statutory text makes clear, and the structure, purpose, and history of the statute all confirm: tax credits and subsidies should be available on all exchanges, state-run and federally facilitated."

Michael Cannon argues the opposite side here: namely, that the Affordable Care Act "makes no provision for subsidies in federally established exchanges."

Chief Justice John Roberts is a highly political, results-oriented judge rather than a consistent legal theorist. Will he seize this chance to destroy Obamacare, or will he allow the current system to survive, as he did in the Supreme Court ruling that left most of the Affordable Care Act intact?

The outcome of King v. Burwell should not affect roughly 105,000 Iowans who have received health insurance coverage under the Iowa Health and Wellness Plan, the compromise alternative to simple Medicaid expansion in this state. According to a report by the Iowa Policy Project, those people "previously were not eligible for Medicaid or who were enrolled only in the IowaCare program." (IowaCare benefits were inferior to Medicaid in various ways.) Iowa hospitals have benefited from these policy changes, as they provided much less uncompensated care to uninsured Iowans during the first half of this year compared to the previous year.

UPDATE: Added after the jump excerpts from the Des Moines Register's unsigned editorial published on November 17. The editors note the irony of conservatives who oppose the Affordable Care Act hoping that "activist judges" will help unravel it.

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Five reasons Teresa Wahlert's days are numbered at Iowa Workforce Development

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Nov 13, 2014 at 10:15:00 AM CST

I don't expect Governor Terry Branstad to replace many state agency leaders going into his sixth term, but before too long he will need to find a new head of Iowa Workforce Development. Although he will probably nominate Teresa Wahlert for that post again, the Iowa Senate will likely reject her confirmation. Here's why:

1. Wahlert needs at least ten Democrats to join the 24 incoming Iowa Senate Republicans in order to be confirmed. She was confirmed in 2011 with only two votes to spare; two of the twelve Democratic senators who backed her then no longer serve in the Iowa legislature, and several who remain in the Senate have been critical of various Branstad administration policies implemented by Wahlert.

2. Wahlert presided over dismantling staffed Iowa Workforce Development field offices in dozens of communities, following a Branstad line-item veto that was eventually struck down by a unanimous Iowa Supreme Court.

3. Wahlert is a defendant in a lawsuit filed by former Iowa Workers' Compensation Commissioner Chris Godfrey. Depositions are happening soon in that case, following an Iowa Supreme Court ruling earlier this year.

4. Wahlert is also a defendant in a lawsuit filed by Joseph Walsh, the former Chief Administrative Law Judge for Iowa Workforce Development. Among other things, Walsh alleges that Wahlert "interfere[d] with the administrative judicial process in order to favor employers," attempted "to illegally strip [Walsh] of his merit protection," and eventually retaliated by removing him in "a political reorganization disguised as a budget layoff."

5. Just this week, an arbitrator ruled that Wahlert "overstepped her bounds when she promoted a judge who had been demoted after complaints that she created a hostile work environment." After the jump I've posted excerpts from David Pitt's report for the Associated Press.

No wonder State Senator Janet Petersen has predicted that Wahlert would face a tough confirmation process if re-appointed by Branstad. He could save everyone a lot of time by choosing new leadership for Iowa Workforce Development.

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Will judicial confirmations grind to a halt under Chairman Grassley?

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Nov 10, 2014 at 09:05:00 AM CST

As a 34-year incumbent, U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley will have a choice among leading the Senate's Finance, Judiciary or Budget committees when the new Congress convenes in January. In a statement to the Des Moines Register yesterday, he said he will pick the Judiciary Committee.

"Oversight is too often overlooked as Congress focuses on new legislation [...] So, anybody who knows my efforts in this area will understand that the Judiciary Committee's work will reflect that sentiment. My goal is to promote transparency and accountability and restore the committee's role as a true check on the massive and powerful federal bureaucracy." [...]

"The Judiciary Committee should not be a rubber stamp for the president," he said. "However, as I have as ranking member, I will work to confirm consensus nominees. Factors I consider important include intellectual ability, respect for the Constitution, fidelity to the law, personal integrity, appropriate judicial temperament, and professional competence.

"Judges are to decide cases and controversies - not establish public policy or make law," he said.

Sounds like under Grassley's leadership, the Judiciary Committee will approve few, if any, of President Barack Obama's judicial nominees for a vote on the Senate floor. I would guess that only conservative-leaning judges will meet the new chairman's standard for "consensus." Other political observers have reached the same conclusion (see also here). In recent years, Grassley and his fellow Republicans blocked confirmation votes on numerous judicial nominees, including everyone the president picked for the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals regardless of qualifications. The standoff prompted Senate Democrats to sharply curtail the use of the filibuster on presidential nominations. Grassley and other Republicans warned at that time that someday they tables would be turned.

Taking a contrarian view, the non-profit Alliance for Justice argues here that "no one should give up on judicial confirmations in a Republican-controlled Senate." I've posted excerpts from that piece after the jump, but it's worth clicking through to read in full.

I also enclose below Grassley's official comment on U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch, whom the president has tapped to be the next attorney general. Grassley has been a vocal critic of outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder. The Judiciary Committee holds confirmation hearings on attorney general nominees.

UPDATE: Added more comments from Grassley on his role and the role of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

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U.S. Supreme Court rejects appeal of defamation case based on Iowa political ad

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Oct 14, 2014 at 10:25:00 AM CDT

Hot off the press: the U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear Republican State Senator Rick Bertrand's appeal of a Iowa Supreme Court ruling rejecting his defamation case. Bertrand's lawsuit stemmed from a negative ad the Iowa Democratic Party ran against him during his 2010 campaign against Rick Mullin. To my surprise, Bertrand won significant damages in a jury trial, and a partial victory at the Iowa District Court level. The district court judge reduced the damages awarded to Bertrand but determined that the controversial television spot constituted "implied libel."

Both Bertrand and the defendants in the defamation case (Mullin and the Iowa Democratic Party) appealed to the Iowa Supreme Court, which heard the case in January. In May, justices unanimously dismissed the case. Bleeding Heartland posted key excerpts from that unanimous ruling here. You can read the full decision here (pdf).

Bertrand's only option left was a U.S. Supreme Court appeal. I never thought he would get far with this lawsuit, because of extensive case law supporting strong protections for political campaign speech, as well as a high bar for any public figure claiming defamation (libel or slander).

Today, Bertrand v. Mullin et al appeared on a long list of cases in which the U.S. Supreme Court denied certiorari.

UPDATE: Bertrand reacted to today's news on his twitter feed. I've added those comments below. He still doesn't have a grasp of the First Amendment issues.

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End of the road for opponents of marriage equality? (updated)

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Oct 06, 2014 at 16:15:47 PM CDT

When the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act last year, justices side-stepped the issue of state bans on same-sex marriage, either by statute or by constitution. Since that time, various U.S. Courts of Appeal have struck down state-level bans, using reasoning similar to the high court's in U.S. v. Windsor. Today, the U.S. Supreme Court announced it will not hear appeals of five such rulings. As Adam Liptak reported for the New York Times, the move "may signal the inevitability of a nationwide right to same-sex marriage."

The development, a major surprise, cleared the way for same-sex marriages in Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin. Officials in Virginia announced that marriages would start at 1 p.m. on Monday.

The decision to let the appeals court rulings stand, which came without explanation in a series of brief orders, will almost immediately increase the number of states allowing same-sex marriage from 19 to 24, along with the District of Columbia. The impact of the move will in short order be even broader.

Monday's orders let stand decisions from three federal appeals courts with jurisdiction over six other states that ban same-sex marriage: Colorado, Kansas, North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia and Wyoming. Those appeals courts will almost certainly follow their own precedents to strike down those additional bans as well, meaning the number of states with same-sex marriage should soon climb to 30. [...]

Other appeals courts are likely to rule soon on yet other marriage bans, including the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco. That court has jurisdiction over nine states. If it rules in favor of same-sex marriage, as expected, it is unlikely to enter a stay, and, given Monday's developments at the Supreme Court, there is no particular reason to think the justices will.

It's all over but the shouting. And speaking of shouting, I've enclosed below the reaction to today's news from the FAMiLY Leader organization, which spearheaded the backlash against the Iowa Supreme Court over its 2009 decision in Varnum v Brien. No Iowa Supreme Court justices are up for retention this year. The remaining three justices who were part of the Varnum ruling will be up for retention in 2016: Chief Justice Mark Cady (author of that unanimous decision), Justice Brent Appel, and Justice Daryl Hecht.

The Alliance for Justice has compiled details on every federal court ruling related to marriage equality here. That organization's president, Nan Aron, said in a statement today, "It is disappointing that the Supreme Court declined to take any of the marriage equality cases decided by federal appeals courts.  In 2013, in its decisions on the so-called Defense of Marriage Act and on Proposition 8, the Supreme Court began to bend the arc of history toward justice on this issue. By declining to take these cases, the Court passed up an opportunity to finish the job."

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread. UPDATE: Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is not going to fight against marriage equality in Wisconsin anymore. Accepting reality may work against him if he runs in the 2016 Iowa Republican caucuses.

SECOND UPDATE: I've enclosed below a statement from Republican Party of Iowa Co-Chair Cody Hoefert. I am intrigued that Iowa GOP Chair Jeff Kaufmann doesn't seem interested in speaking out on this issue anymore. In 2011, he voted for a state constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman. Kaufmann retired in 2012, and his son Bobby Kaufmann was elected to succeed him in the Iowa House. Bobby Kaufmann declined to co-sponsor a marriage amendment in 2013.  

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Lawsuit fails to block California egg production law, with Iowa reaction (updated)

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Oct 06, 2014 at 08:03:51 AM CDT

Catching up on news from last week, on October 2 U.S. District Court Judge Kimberly Mueller threw out a lawsuit brought by six states, including Iowa, seeking to block California's law on egg production standards. Governor Terry Branstad joined that lawsuit in March, after Representative Steve King failed to use the federal Farm Bill as a vehicle for overturning the California law.

Bleeding Heartland covered the plaintiff's case against the egg production standards here. I predicted the lawsuit would fail because "1) the law does not 'discriminate'; 2) the law does not force any conduct on egg producers outside the state of California; and 3) overturning this law would prompt a wave of lawsuits seeking to invalidate any state regulation designed to set higher standards for safety, public health, or consumer protection."

In fact, the case never got to the point of the judge considering those legal arguments. If I were an attorney, I might have foreseen the reason Judge Mueller dismissed the lawsuit: lack of standing. You can download the 25-page ruling here (document number 102) and read pages 15 to 23 to understand her full reasoning. Daniel Enoch summarized it well for AgriPulse:

"Plaintiffs' arguments focus on the potential harm each state's egg farmers face," Mueller wrote in her 25-page decision. "The alleged imminent injury, however, does not involve an injury the citizens of each state face but rather a potential injury each state's egg farmers face when deciding whether or not to comply with AB 1437." In other words, they failed to show that the law does real harm to citizens, instead of possible future harm to some egg producers.

"It is patently clear plaintiffs are bringing this action on behalf of a subset of each state's egg farmers," Mueller wrote, "not on behalf of each state's population generally."

Mueller dismissed the case "with prejudice," meaning plaintiffs cannot amend their claim and re-file. Plaintiffs including Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller are considering their legal options. While they could appeal the dismissal, I doubt they would prevail in a U.S. Appeals Court.

The Des Moines Register's write-up by Matthew Patane and Donelle Eller highlighted the alleged harm California's law will do to Iowa agriculture when it goes into effect on January 1. I've posted excerpts after the jump. I was disappointed that the Register's reporters led with the spin from "Iowa agricultural leaders" and buried in the middle of the piece a short passage explaining why the lawsuit failed (states can't serve as a legal proxy for a small interest group). Patane and Eller did not mention that if courts accept the reasoning of egg law opponents, a possible outcome would be invalidating any state law or regulation designed to set higher standards for safety, public health, or consumer protection.

Comments provided to the Register by Governor Branstad, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey, and others reinforce Judge Mueller's determination that the lawsuit was designed to protect a group of agricultural producers rather than citizens as a whole. A lot of Iowa Democrats bought into the poultry producers' industry constitutional arguments as well.

UPDATE: Added below Branstad's latest comments. He is either confused about the ruling or determined not to acknowledge the real legal issue.

SECOND UPDATE: Added comments from Representative Steve King and Sherrie Taha, the Democratic nominee for Iowa Secretary of Agriculture.

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