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Judiciary

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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Iowa Senate Democrats roll out state government reforms

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Oct 01, 2014 at 15:00:00 PM CDT

The Iowa Senate Oversight Committee met yesterday to approve a wide range of recommendations on state government management, contracting, and labor practices. O. Kay Henderson posted audio from the committee meeting at Radio Iowa. On a 3-2 party-line vote, Democrats on the committee approved recommendations in the following nine areas:

• A ban on secret settlements and hush money
• Expanded whistleblower protections
• Anti-cronyism measures
• Reform of the state's "do-not-hire" database
• A ban on no-bid contracts for state projects
• Increase accountability in state infrastructure projects
• Protect Iowans right to fair hearings by preventing political appointees and at-will employees from supervising or evaluating judges
• Restore integrity to Iowa's unemployment trust fund by appointing trusted and transparent leadership
• Require that the Legislature be notified when the Governor receives reports of founded workplace violence in state agencies.

One of the Republicans who voted against the recommendations, State Senator Julian Garrett, characterized the Democratic proposals as "political theater" not "borne out by the facts."

"No laws were broken. No codes of ethics were violated," Garrett said. "Instead, we have discovered that there is a difference of opinion in management philosophies...and we have learned that sometimes front-line workers don't care for or particularly agree with their bosses."

In Garrett's view, Governor Terry Branstad is running the state "exceptionally well" and should get more credit for ending secret settlements through an executive order. However, witnesses appearing before the Iowa Senate Oversight Committee in recent months testified to many problems in state government beyond settlements that included confidentiality clauses (which were the first scandals to get widespread attention). Committee Chair Janet Petersen mentioned several of them in her opening remarks for yesterday's meeting. After the jump I've posted a more detailed list of recommendations, along with findings that prompted them. Whether these proposals go anywhere during the 2015 legislative session will depend on party control of the Iowa House and Senate after the November election.

Rod Boshart paraphrased Petersen as predicting that if Branstad is re-elected, several of his appointees who were involved in these scandals may have trouble being confirmed by the Iowa Senate, "notably Iowa Workforce Development Director Teresa Wahlert."

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Iowa Supreme Court allows "telemed" abortions to continue pending appeal

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Sep 16, 2014 at 21:35:00 PM CDT

The Iowa Supreme Court has put a stay on a state rule prohibiting doctors from prescribing abortifacient drugs to patients through a videoconferencing system, according to an e-mail blast from Planned Parenthood of the Heartland this evening. Excerpt:

Today, the Iowa Supreme Court extended the stay on the Iowa Board of Medicine's telemedicine abortion ban, ensuring that thousands of women in Iowa will continue to have access to safe, constitutionally protected abortion while we fight to permanently reverse the ban.

As our fight for Iowa women continues, we're pleased that the court has upheld this right, and we're proud to continue to provide the same exceptional care that we always have, no matter what.

We also are gratified that the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) filed an amicus brief supporting PPHeartland's request for a stay. This important group of medical providers understands and agrees that a woman and her doctor - not politicians - should be making personal health care decisions.

Planned Parenthood recently appealed last month's Polk County District Court ruling that allowed the rule adopted by the Iowa Board of Medicine to go into effect. Bleeding Heartland summarized the key points in the case here. Seven of Planned Parenthood's nine Iowa clinics that offer abortion services have been using the telemedicine system. If the state rule had been implemented pending appeal, women would have had to drive to clinics in either Iowa City or Des Moines in order to access medical abortions in the presence of a doctor.

At this writing, the judicial order has not yet been posted on the Iowa Courts website. I will update with a link when available.  

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Iowa judge sentences medical marijuana user to probation

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Sep 10, 2014 at 13:27:00 PM CDT

In a case being watched by medical marijuana advocates across the country, cancer patient Benton Mackenzie received three years of probation rather than a prison term for his conviction in July on drug charges. Mackenzie had grown marijuana plants on his parents' property in order to extract cannabis oil, and his wife and son also faced drug charges. At the trial, District Court Judge Henry Latham did not allow Mackenzie's attorney to tell the jury that the defendant was trying to treat his angiosarcoma. Yesterday, the same judge sentenced both Mackenzie and his wife Loretta Mackenzie to probation, in line with the prosecutor's recommendation in the case. After the jump I've posted excerpts from Brian Wellner's report for the Quad-City Times and Grant Rodgers' report for the Des Moines Register. Libertarian candidate for governor Lee Hieb, a medical doctor, attended yesterday's hearing and afterward called for a change in public policy to give people "the right to choose our own cancer care." Mackenzie expressed hope that he will be the "last person" to be prosecuted under similar circumstances.

The Mackenzie family wants to move to Oregon, where a doctor has approved Benton Mackenzie for participation in that state's medical marijuana program. Probation officers in Iowa would have to sign off on the move before the family could leave the state. Mackenzie also plans to appeal "in an effort to get the Iowa Supreme Court to reconsider its decision in a 2005 case that bars Iowans from using claims of medical necessity as a defense to growing marijuana."

I still think it was a waste of taxpayer money to prosecute a critically ill person for growing marijuana intended for personal use. Iowa lawmakers should make cannabis more accessible to people who can demonstrate a medical need for it.

LATE UPDATE: Judge Latham sentenced Benton Mackenzie's close friend Stephen Bloomer to five years in prison for helping the cancer patient buy materials for growing marijuana. Bloomer is free on bond pending consideration of his appeal. Scroll to the end of this post for more details on that case. What a travesty.

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Planned Parenthood appeals to Iowa Supreme Court in telemedicine case

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Aug 29, 2014 at 14:41:00 PM CDT

Yesterday Planned Parenthood of the Heartland asked the Iowa Supreme Court to put on hold a state rule banning the use of "telemedicine" for medical abortions. A Polk County District Court recently upheld that rule, on grounds Bleeding Heartland discussed here. Planned Parenthood argues that it is likely to succeed on the merits when the Iowa Supreme Court considers its appeal of the lower court ruling, that the state ban would "irreparably harm" Planned Parenthood and its patients, and that a temporary injunction on the rule while the appeal is pending "will not harm the interests of the other parties or the public." A stay on the rule would allow women to continue to receive medical abortion access at seven Planned Parenthood clinics across Iowa where the teleconferencing system is available.

The Des Moines Register posted the full text of Planned Parenthood's motion filed yesterday. After the jump I've posted key excerpts, which preview the substance of Planned Parenthood's appeal.

I'm not an attorney, but my hunch is that the Iowa Supreme Court will overturn the lower court ruling--perhaps with two or three dissenters who would defer to the Board of Medicine, along the lines of the dissents in a recent case involving the Iowa Utilities Board.

To my mind, Planned Parenthood's strongest argument is that the Iowa Board of Medicine approved a rule that "singles out abortion, banning telemedicine delivery of this service while encouraging other uses of telemedicine." A Des Moines Register editorial published earlier this week underscored the hypocrisy of that position. I've enclosed excerpts from that piece at the end of this post. Governor Terry Branstad and others in his administration have celebrated the use of telemedicine in many ways that involve doctors or pharmacists dispensing medications without ever being in the same room as their patients.

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District Court upholds Iowa rule banning "telemedicine" abortions

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Aug 19, 2014 at 22:46:10 PM CDT

A Polk County District Court today upheld a rule adopted by the Iowa Board of Medicine last year, which would prohibit Planned Parenthood of the Heartland from providing medical abortions using "telemedicine" (where a doctor meets with the patient via videoconferencing). You can read the full text of Judge Jeffrey Farrell's ruling here. After the jump I've summarized Judge Farrell's key findings, including background on the case and excerpts from his decision. I've also enclosed reaction from both sides in the telemedicine abortion debate, as well as from Governor Terry Branstad and Democratic challenger Jack Hatch.

Judge Farrell's ruling goes into effect in 30 days, but Planned Parenthood has already said it will appeal, so the Iowa Supreme Court may put another stay on the rule pending its hearing of the case.

I'm surprised by this ruling. In a November 2013 decision granting Planned Parenthood's request for a stay of the rule, Polk County District Court Judge Karen Romano sounded skeptical that rule would be upheld when courts considered the merits. She noted the lack of evidence of any adverse outcomes in more than 5,000 abortions using Planned Parenthood's telemedicine system, the "peculiar" fact that the Board of Medicine required an in-person meeting between a patient and doctor for abortion services, but not for other telemedicine practices, and the likelihood that denying rural women access to medical abortion would increase demand for "surgical abortion, which is much more invasive and risky." UPDATE: In the comments, Bleeding Heartland reader ahawby notes several factors that could have influenced Judge Farrell's perspective on this case.

Today's decision is a victory for opponents of abortion rights, because Iowa women in small towns and rural areas will face more hurdles to obtain abortions early in pregnancy. It's also a personal triumph for Branstad's legal counsel, Brenna Findley. As Judge Farrell's ruling acknowledges, Findley was a vocal advocate of the rulemaking, urging the Board of Medicine to act quickly on the petition from pro-life activists, against the advice of the board's own legal counsel as well as the Iowa Attorney General's office.

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Three reasons Rick Perry's indictment will help him with Iowa Republicans

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Aug 19, 2014 at 10:54:25 AM CDT

Being charged with a crime is rarely good news for any public figure, but it looks like Texas Governor Rick Perry will be the exception that proves the rule.

Not only will his presidential aspirations survive the criminal case launched against him last last week, the governor's prosecution will improve his standing among Iowa Republicans, for three reasons.

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Terry Branstad's misguided view of fighting for Iowa agriculture

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Aug 12, 2014 at 10:09:07 AM CDT

Speaking to a small crowd at the Iowa State Fair yesterday, Governor Terry Branstad said he was "proud as governor to have stood up for and fought for the interests of agriculture." You can watch the video on the Des Moines Register's website and read highlights in O.Kay Henderson's report for Radio Iowa or Jason Noble's summary for the Register:

He described his defense of Beef Products Inc. and its lean finely textured beef against charges that it was unhealthy "pink slime"; his support for wind energy; his efforts to maintain the current renewable fuel standard for ethanol content in gasoline; and his opposition to California chicken cage standards that could harm Iowa egg producers.

Branstad certainly was a vocal advocate for "pink slime," even depicting the product as some kind of superior health food. He's eager to defend one company's use of methods many consumers find repulsive, but I doubt the Terrace Hill chef is serving him many meals containing lean finely-textured beef.

Renewable energy advocates in Iowa would not characterize Branstad as a champion for wind. I've never heard of him lifting a finger to support "distributed generation" policies, which would benefit a much broader group of farmers and landowners than the large wind farms now dotting rural Iowa.

True, the governor has argued strenuously for maintaining the Renewable Fuels Standard, contradicting his usual stance against "big government regulations" and federal mandates. However, it's debatable whether the RFS is as important to Iowa's economy as some interest groups claim.

Branstad can pander all he wants about "the State of California with its wacky ideas," but the lawsuit he joined on behalf of Iowa is lacking in logic and unlikely to overturn California's egg law. It's also ironic that a governor who claims to oppose "activist judges" is pinning his hopes on them in this case and in another lawsuit challenging a different California law.

Meanwhile, Branstad has either done nothing or actively impeded solutions on several issues that pose an enormous threat to Iowa agriculture. We're losing world-class topsoil at an alarming rate, diminishing the future productivity of our land. Yet Branstad vetoed millions of dollars this year for Iowa watershed and land stewardship projects. Nor has he ever proposed funding the Natural Resources Trust Fund, which Iowa voters approved four years ago.

"Superweeds" resistant to the most prevalent herbicides are spreading across Iowa. Branstad has never advocated for or promoted more sustainable farming methods, which could address the weed problem more effectively than dumping more toxic chemicals on the land. Incidentally, Big Ag's preferred approach to battling superweeds could could put a lot of Iowa vineyards and fruit growers out of business--never mind the potential risks to human health.

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Weekend open thread: Crime and punishment edition

by: desmoinesdem

Sat Aug 09, 2014 at 20:58:44 PM CDT

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

Late last week, a Virginia medical examiner determined that James Brady's recent death was a homicide, stemming from John Hinckley's attempt to assassinate President Ronald Reagan in 1981. I would be interested to hear from readers more familiar with the criminal justice system about precedent for charging someone with murder when more than three decades elapsed between the fatal wound and the victim's death. The U.S. Attorney's office had no comment other than to say that they are reviewing the coroner's report. If prosecutors charge Hinckley with murder, they could get around double jeopardy questions, as Hinckley was never tried for murder before. But since his previous trial ended in a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity, it seems that it would be quite difficult for prosecutors to convince a jury that he is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of killing Brady.

In one of the last decisions announced from the term that just ended, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled a few weeks ago in State v Lyle that mandatory sentences for juveniles are unconstitutional. You can read the majority ruling and two dissents here. The majority ruling built on but went far beyond a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that invalidated mandatory sentences of life without parole for convicted killers who were juveniles at the time of the crime. Writing for the 4-3 majority, Chief Justice Mark Cady extended reasoning from three Iowa Supreme Court decisions last year related to juvenile sentencing. Cady is not afraid to be ahead of the curve here. I expect that over the next decade, other courts will take into account the growing body of research on the adolescent brain, and this ruling will be viewed as a harbinger rather than an overreach. Justices David Wiggins, Daryl Hecht, and Brent Appel joined the majority.

In dissent, Justices Thomas Waterman and Bruce Zager argued that the court went too far in the current ruling as well as in the previous juvenile sentencing cases. They held that a seven-year mandatory minimum was not "cruel and unusual punishment" for a violent criminal who happened to be 17 years old at the time of the crime. Justice Edward Mansfield joined both dissents. It's worth noting that the majority opinion didn't say a juvenile couldn't be sentenced to a long prison term--only that a judge must take into account individual circumstances and current knowledge of adolescent brain development when determining a sentence.

Side note: Governor Terry Branstad appeared not to understand this Iowa Supreme Court ruling, or perhaps he deliberately attempted to mislead the public about its implications. Speaking to reporters last month, the governor implied that juveniles who commit violent crimes will now have to be released at age 18. Not at all. The Iowa Supreme Court majority did not hold that juveniles could never be tried as adults, or that juveniles could not be sentenced to long prison terms. Judges simply can't apply to juveniles mandatory formulas designed for adults who committed violent crimes.

Earlier this summer, I never managed to write a post about the idiot "open carry activists" who were hell-bent on walking into chain stores and restaurants heavily armed. Even the National Rifle Association characterized the movement as having "crossed the line from enthusiasm to downright foolishness"--though the NRA wimps soon apologized for offending Open Carry Texas. Thankfully, I haven't encountered this phenomenon in Iowa, but if I see a person or group of people walking heavily armed into a store or restaurant, I will clear out immediately. There's no way to tell whether someone carrying a semiautomatic weapon is an open carry activist or a psychopath about to go on a killing spree, and I wouldn't hang around to find out. This philosophy professor had it exactly right when he pointed out that open carry enthusiasts are different from people who carry concealed weapons: "Those who conceal their guns are ready for trouble, but open-carry activists are looking for it. In general, I don't trust anyone who is looking for trouble."

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Terry Branstad's vendetta against Chris Godfrey looks even dumber

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Aug 05, 2014 at 11:15:47 AM CDT

Iowa Workers' Compensation Commissioner Chris Godfrey submitted his resignation to Governor Terry Branstad yesterday in order to become chief judge of the Employee's Compensation Appeal Board in Washington, D.C. later this month. I haven't seen any official reaction from the Branstad administration. The governor has been trying to get rid of Godfrey since late 2010, even though the Iowa Senate had unanimously confirmed him to a fixed term as Workers' Compensation Commissioner until 2015. During the summer of 2011, Branstad docked Godfrey's pay after sending his chief of staff and legal counsel to demand his resignation one more time. The governor couldn't articulate any reason for being dissatisfied with Godfrey, other than saying, "business groups in Iowa [...] told me in no uncertain terms that they were not happy with the direction under Mr. Godfrey." Branstad staffers publicly criticized Godfrey's work, which along with the pay reduction and pressure to resign led to a defamation and discrimination lawsuit against the state of Iowa and six senior officials, including Branstad and Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds.

Last month, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that Godfrey can sue individual officials as well as the State of Iowa for defamation, extortion and other claims. Yesterday, Godfrey's attorney Roxanne Conlin confirmed that the lawsuit will move forward. I've posted her comments below, along with reaction from Democratic gubernatorial nominee Jack Hatch. Polk County District Court Judge Arthur Gamble told attorneys last week that a firm trial date will be set for sometime in 2015. Depositions are only just beginning in a case that has already cost the state of Iowa more than $500,000 in legal fees.

If Godfrey weren't doing his job well, he would not have been offered a more senior and prestigious position in the same line of work. I don't know whether Branstad wanted to get rid of him because Godfrey is openly gay, as the lawsuit alleges, or because the governor was taking marching orders from business groups. Either way, the governor never should have bullied and badgered this highly capable person, and the state should have settled this lawsuit a long time ago.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.

P.S.- Has any Iowa governor ever hired a worse legal counsel than Brenna Findley? She's supposed to steer her boss away from legal problems, not provide fodder for a lawsuit. Nor is this case her only misstep. Last summer, Findley contradicted legal advice from the Iowa Attorney General's office and the attorney for the Iowa Board of Medicine, encouraging that board to move forward with abortion restrictions that have been temporarily blocked and will probably be struck down in a separate lawsuit.

UPDATE: Todd Dorman hits on the most disturbing aspect of this "saga": "Truth is, governors have the power to make dozens and dozens of powerful appointments. The fact that Branstad would go to these lengths to get his hands on one job that eluded his grasp tells you quite a bit about how he views the limits of executive power. After nearly 20 years, he doesn't see any."

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Hopeless lawsuit only adds to Cedar Rapids' opportunity costs

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Jul 25, 2014 at 10:07:30 AM CDT

Cedar Rapids movers and shakers should be pursuing alternative plans for a prime downtown location rejected for a casino license in April. Instead, city leaders have vowed to find a legislative path to their casino dream. Now a former Linn County attorney hopes a court will throw out the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission's decision. Rick Smith reports for the Cedar Rapids Gazette,

[Eugene] Kopecky filed a lawsuit this week in Linn County District Court against the commission and the four of five commission members who voted April 17 to deny a state gaming license to casino investor group Cedar Rapids Development Group LLC.

Kopecky, who has practiced law in Cedar Rapids since 1966, said Thursday that his lawsuit seeks a declaratory judgment. He said he wants the court to instruct the commission on the state's gaming law in a way that would require the commission to revisit the Cedar Rapids casino application and grant a state gaming license.

Kopecky said the state's gaming law requires voters in a county to approve gaming before a casino is permitted to operate. [...]

He said state law doesn't give the state commission the ability to deny a casino license in one county based on a license in another county, he said.

The fact that voters must approve a plan before a casino can be licensed does not imply that the commission must approve every application for a casino license where a referendum has passed. The Racing and Gaming Commission has denied some two dozen gambling licenses in its 30-year history. There is ample precedent for the commission denying a license based on concerns a new casino would largely cannibalize from existing ones. I've seen no evidence that state legislators thought commissioners were exceeding their authority in those cases. I'm not an attorney, but I would be shocked if a court agreed with Kopecky's interpretation of Iowa statute.

Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett commented yesterday that he supports the lawsuit. For his part, Kopecky "said his lawsuit could take more than two years to make its way through the Iowa court system if a decision in Linn County District Court is appealed."

What a shame to waste so much time on a Hail-Mary pass, when Cedar Rapids could be considering other development plans for the downtown space. Richard Florida, a leading expert on urban land use, has written that "urbanists across the ideological spectrum are unanimous" about one thing: "building casinos, especially in an already thriving downtown, is a truly terrible idea."  

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Supreme Court ruling will speed up small solar projects in Iowa

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Jul 14, 2014 at 11:42:57 AM CDT

The Iowa Supreme Court on Friday affirmed a lower court ruling that will make it easier for small-scale solar projects to move forward in Iowa. The up-front cost of installing solar panels has long been a barrier to unlocking Iowa's huge potential to generate solar power. Now municipalities, home or business owners will be able to have solar panels installed through a "third-party power purchase agreement," whereby they pay for the electricity generated after installation.

Follow me after the jump for background on this case, key points from the majority ruling, and reaction to the decision. Advocates for solar power in Iowa and elsewhere are enthusiastic about the potential for more small-scale renewable energy projects (sometimes called "distributed generation"). Utility companies are warning that the ruling will drive up electricity costs.  

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Iowa Supreme Court rejects Farm Bureau's effort to nullify clean water rules (updated)

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Jul 11, 2014 at 18:08:12 PM CDT

In a 4-3 split decision, the Iowa Supreme Court affirmed today a Polk County District Court ruling that dismissed a lawsuit seeking to nullify new state water quality rules.

The environmental community and groups representing big agribusiness have closely watched this case for years, because the "antidegradation" rules are an important step toward bringing Iowa into compliance with the federal Clean Water Act. Had this lawsuit succeeded, no strong water quality rules would have seen the light of day for the forseeable future in Iowa, because Governor Terry Branstad has packed the State Environmental Protection Commission with advocates for agribusiness.

Follow me after the jump for more background on the case and details about today's decision.

UPDATE: Added reaction from the Iowa Farm Bureau and the Iowa Environmental Council below. If there's a more hypocritical statewide organization than the Farm Bureau, I can't think what it could be.

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Iowa Supreme Court's first landmark ruling is 175 years old

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Jul 07, 2014 at 17:04:29 PM CDT

While checking for new Iowa Supreme Court rulings, I saw on the court's official website that July 4 marked an important anniversary in Iowa judicial history. On that date in 1839, the territorial high court handed down its first ruling, which is still one of its most noteworthy opinions. "In the Matter of Ralph," the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that a slave-owner from Missouri could not enforce a contract that would have required his former slave Ralph to return from Iowa to servitude. Writing for the court, Chief Justice Charles Mason acknowledged Ralph's monetary debt but held that "no man in this territory can be reduced to slavery"

and that Montgomery had lost his right over Ralph in Iowa. The justices wrote, "When, in seeking to accomplish his object, he illegally restrains a human being of his liberty, it is proper that the laws, which should extend equal protection to men of all colors and conditions, should exert their remedial interposition. We think, therefore, that [Ralph] should be discharged from all custody and constraint, and be permitted to go free while he remains under the protection of our laws."

The Iowa Supreme Court's current Chief Justice Mark Cady has hailed the importance of that ruling, which "declared equality for all people, regardless of skin color, in a very powerful way."

Amazingly, just 53 years ago today, civil rights activist John Lewis (now a member of Congress from Georgia) was released from prison after being jailed for more than a month. His "crime" had been to use a "white" restroom in the state of Mississippi.  

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Iowa reaction to the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby ruling (updated)

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Jun 30, 2014 at 13:23:00 PM CDT

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 today in favor of Hobby Lobby's right not to provide contraception coverage in its health insurance package for employees. The Obama administration had already exempted some religious organizations and non-profits from the contraception mandate in the 2010 health care reform law. Today's ruling allows a closely-held (that is, not publicly traded) for-profit corporation to claim religious rights that override the rights of their employees, not to mention the need to comply with federal law.

You can read the full text of the Supreme Court's decision and dissents here (pdf). Justice Samuel Alito wrote the "opinion of the court," joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Anthony Kennedy. Strangely, Kennedy wrote a separate concurring opinion "in an attempt to show how narrow the Court's decision was." Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, and Stephen Breyer dissented. The majority ruling appears to apply only to contraception health care services, as opposed to other medical procedures to which some groups have religious objections (such as vaccinations or blood transfusions). Still, Ginsburg seems on track when she warns that the court "has ventured into a minefield" by "approving some religious claims while deeming others unworthy of accommodation." Analyzing today's decision, Lyle Denniston predicted more litigation will be needed to clarify the limits of the new religious exemption for closely-held companies.

For background on the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby case (formerly Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius) and the implications of the ruling, check the Alliance for Justice and SCOTUSblog websites.

After the jump I've posted comments from various Iowa elected officials and candidates. So far Iowa Democrats have been quicker to respond to the Hobby Lobby ruling than Republicans. I will update this post as needed.

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Supreme Court strikes down Obama recess appointments

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Jun 26, 2014 at 13:45:00 PM CDT

The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled today that President Barack Obama violated the Constitution by making recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board in January 2012, when the U.S. Senate was technically in session. The Congressional Research Service produced an excellent backgrounder on the legal issues surrounding that set of appointments. You can find today's opinions here (pdf). Writing for the majority, Justice Stephen Breyer concluded, "For purposes of the Recess Appointments Clause, the Senate is in session when it says that it is, provided that, under its own rules, it retains the capacity to transact Senate business." The Obama administration had argued that the Senate was for all practical purposes in recess on January 4, 2012, since no real business is conducted during pro-forma sessions a few minutes long every three days. Justices Anthony Kennedy, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg joined in the majority opinion.

Today's ruling is less far-reaching than it could have been; Justice Antonin Scalia's opinion concurring in judgment only would have much more severely restricted presidential powers to make recess appointments. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas joined that opinion.

Since the Senate changed its rules last year to make it much more difficult for the minority to block presidential appointees, Obama has less reason to resort to recess appointments. But that could change if Republicans gain a Senate majority after this November's elections.

Iowa's senior Senator Chuck Grassley hailed today's ruling in a Senate floor speech that I've posted below. I haven't seen any official comment from Senator Tom Harkin. He is among those who supported the president's recess appointments, citing "unprecedented abuses of process" by Senate Republicans who sought to prevent the National Labor Relations Board from operating by refusing to confirm any nominee.

UPDATE: Added a few points Lyle Denniston raised below.

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Supreme Court strikes down Massachusetts law on buffer zones around abortion clinics

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Jun 26, 2014 at 12:09:21 PM CDT

The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld a Missouri law establishing a 300-foot buffer zone around funerals, and has upheld some state laws creating buffer zones around abortion clinics. But today, all nine justices found that a Massachusetts law establishing a 35-foot buffer zone around abortion clinics violates the First Amendment of the Constitution. You can find the full texts of the majority opinion and two concurrences in McCullen et al v Coakley here (pdf).

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the majority, joined by Justices Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Sonia Sotomayor. The ruling found that although the Massachusetts law was not attempting to regulate speech based on content, "The buffer zones burden substantially more speech than necessary to achieve the Commonwealth's asserted inter­ests," which "include ensuring public safety outside abortion clinics, preventing harassment and intimidation of patients and clinic staff, and combating deliberate obstruction of clinic entrances."

There is a long history of intimidating and sometimes violent protests outside Massachusetts abortion clinics. But the majority rejected state officials' contention that the 2007 law was needed because a previous, less restrictive buffer zone law had not worked. The court argued that a more narrowly-tailored approach, stepping up law enforcement around the Boston clinic with the most problems, could achieve the same end without restricting protesters' free speech in public areas.

Justice Antonin Scalia wrote a separate opinion, joined by Justices Anthony Kennedy and Clarence Thomas, concurring in judgment only. He would have thrown out the law because it regulates speech in a "content-based" manner and can't survive the "strict scrutiny" standard which "requires that a regulation represent "the least restrictive means" of furthering "a compelling Gov­ernment interest." Justice Samuel Alito wrote a separate opinion concurring in judgment. He would throw out the state law because it "discriminates based on viewpoint. Speech in favor of the clinic and its work by employees and agents is permitted; speech criticizing the clinic and its work is a crime."  

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Police need a warrant to search your cell phone

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Jun 25, 2014 at 13:13:00 PM CDT

In what may become one of this year's most far-reaching court rulings, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously today that a right to privacy applies to cell phones, and that law enforcement cannot inspect the contents of cell phones without a search warrant. Chief Justice John Roberts, one of the high court's five conservatives, wrote the opinion, which you can read in full here. Good summaries include David Savage's report for the Los Angeles Times, Adam Liptak's report for the New York Times, and this SCOTUSblog analysis by Lyle Denniston:

The Court rejected every argument made to it by prosecutors and police that officers should be free to inspect the contents of any cellphone taken from an arrestee.  It left open just one option for such searches without a court order:  if police are facing a dire emergency, such as trying to locate a missing child or heading off a terrorist plot.  But even then, it ruled, those "exigent" exceptions to the requirement for a search warrant would have to satisfy a judge after the fact.

The ruling was such a sweeping embrace of digital privacy that it even reached remotely stored private information that can be reached by a hand-held device - as in the modern-day data storage "cloud."  And it implied that the tracking data that a cellphone may contain about the places that an individual visited also is entitled to the same shield of privacy.

I'm not surprised by the decision, but I'm surprised it was unanimous. It's a very strong statement that police need to change their standard practices after arresting suspects will have to change.

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