Read the first lawsuit over revoked University of Iowa scholarships

University of Iowa undergraduate Ben Muller filed a class action lawsuit today in Polk County District Court, charging that the university “revoked its scholarship offers to Plaintiff and the putative class without warning, without due process, and without just compensation.” Muller is among 3,015 undergraduates who learned last week that the University of Iowa was discontinuing five scholarship programs to help cover losses in state funding. Scroll down to read the full seven-page court filing, which alleges multiple violations of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

In a news release also enclosed below, attorney Steve Wandro described the university’s action as “not only immoral, but illegal as well.” Jon Muller, the plaintiff’s father, said, “What has occurred here is insane. My son’s decision to attend the University of Iowa was partially based on his being awarded a scholarship.”

Attorneys have scheduled meetings in West Des Moines and Iowa City this Saturday for “students, parents of students, and interested alumni to discuss their concerns and legal options.” The press release includes details on meeting locations and times.

The plaintiff is asking for a jury trial. A Facebook page created to support a class-action filing has nearly 250 likes.

My hunch is that University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld and his advisers will come up with a face-saving way out of this mess before Muller and other members of his class have their day in court. A trial pitting the university against students, most of whom are children of alumni, would generate massive terrible publicity.

After Harreld figures out how to cover the $4,343,699 the university planned to save by canceling the current students’ scholarships, he needs to deal with an extra $1,237,500 reduction in state funding before June 30. The Branstad administration announced additional mid-year cuts to higher education last Friday.

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Key Iowa Senate Republican: "Loser pays" bill going nowhere

A Republican bill that would have made Iowa courts far less accessible to ordinary people will die in an Iowa Senate subcommittee, GOP State Senator Charles Schneider told Bleeding Heartland on February 25. Bill Brauch, former director of the Consumer Protection Division in the Iowa Attorney General’s Office, explained here how the so-called “loser pays” bill “would in effect kill Iowa’s private consumer fraud law, and just about eliminate any other type of legal action by an individual against a defendant with money.”

Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Brad Zaun introduced Senate Study Bill 1008 during the first week of the legislative session, then assigned it to a subcommittee chaired by Schneider. Following a February 25 public forum in Clive, I asked Schneider about that bill’s status. He replied, “I don’t think it’s going anywhere. I haven’t held a subcommittee meeting for it, and I’m not planning to.”

I mentioned that Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix had named “loser pays” as one of his top four priorities in an interview with Radio Iowa. Schneider responded, “I’m not planning to hold a subcommittee meeting on it. I don’t think any other tort reform bills include a ‘loser pays’ section in them.”

Under Iowa legislative rules, most non-appropriations bills will be dead for the year if they have not cleared at least one Iowa House or Senate committee by the first “funnel,” coming up on Friday, March 3. The leaders of subcommittees and committees have discretion on what bills to bring up for a vote.

I’m pleasantly surprised to learn Senate Study Bill 1008 will go down without a fight. Only a month and a half ago, Dix cited a “measure that ensures losers in those court cases pay for the cost associated with the case” as one of “four bills that I believe define us and give Iowans a clear indication of where we plan to go with policies for our state.” The Iowa Association of Business and Industry, a lobby group with substantial influence among statehouse Republicans, registered in favor of this bill almost immediately. Perhaps Schneider, who practices law as a day job, was able to convince non-attorneys Dix and Zaun that “loser pays” is unnecessary and unfair. Or perhaps Zaun miscalculated by putting Schneider in charge of this subcommittee.

Whatever caused this bill’s demise, any bit of good news from this dreadful legislative session is worth celebrating.

UPDATE: Reader Marian Kuper noticed that Senate Study Bill 1144 contains a “loser pays” clause for nuisance lawsuits against large livestock farms. Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Dan Zumbach proposed that bill, which contains several provisions designed to shield confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) from lawsuits. It has passed a subcommittee and appears likely to survive the funnel, with support from several Big Ag lobby groups.

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Iowa attorney general: Outside counsel should defend collective bargaining law

To “avoid any questions about a potential conflict,” Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller will request that outside legal counsel defend the state against a public employee union’s legal challenge to Iowa’s new collective bargaining law. AFSCME, the largest labor union representing state workers, and four of its members filed suit on February 20, charging that House File 291 violates Iowa constitutional provisions on equal protection and non-interference in contracts. In a statement I enclose in full below, Miller said he will ask the Iowa Executive Council to approve other counsel for this case, because “the new collective bargaining law has the potential to existentially threaten the viability of public sector unions,” which have supported him in past campaigns.

The council is likely to approve Miller’s request. Its five members are Governor Terry Branstad, Secretary of State Paul Pate, State Treasurer Mike Fitzgerald, Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey, and State Auditor Mary Mosiman. Branstad’s spokesperson Ben Hammes told Barbara Rodriguez of the Associated Press, “[Miller] summed it up when he said that AFSCME had supported him in the past and he wants to avoid any questions about a potential conflict.”

The Attorney General’s Office defended the Branstad administration against a lawsuit challenging the closure of the Iowa Juvenile Home, for which AFSCME Iowa Council 61 President Danny Homan was a plaintiff. But outside counsel defended the state when Democratic lawmakers and Homan challenged the governor’s use of line-item vetoes to close Iowa Workforce Development offices.

Miller may need to ask outside counsel to be appointed if other labor unions and public employees file additional lawsuits challenging the collective bargaining law. Aside from the points raised by AFSCME, several other provisions may raise constitutional questions:

• The law bans automatic payroll deductions for labor union dues, while allowing such deductions to continue for professional association memberships or recurring charitable contributions.

• The law may violate free association rights by requiring unions to win a majority of all eligible voters, not just those who cast ballots, in order to stay certified.

• The law eliminates a quid pro quo contained in the first paragraph of Chapter 20, which could be seen as a due process violation.

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Read the first lawsuit challenging Iowa's horrible new collective bargaining law

AFSCME Iowa Council 61 and four of its members filed suit today in Polk County District Court, saying the collective bargaining law Governor Terry Branstad signed on Friday is unconstitutional. I enclose below the petition filed on behalf of Iowa’s largest union representing state employees, as well as the plaintiffs’ request for expedited hearing. The filing repeatedly refers to “the amendments” because House File 291 amended Chapter 20 of the Iowa Code, which has regulated collective bargaining since 1974.

The new law’s disparate treatment of “public safety workers” and other public employees is the central issue raised in AFSCME’s lawsuit. Plaintiffs argue that Article I, section 6 of the Iowa Constitution requires that “all laws of a general nature shall have a uniform operation” and that the legislature “shall not grant to any citizen, or class of citizens, privileges or immunities, which, upon the same terms shall not equally belong to all citizens.” All four individual plaintiffs fail to qualify as “public safety workers,” and therefore have lost almost all meaningful collective bargaining rights, even though some of their occupations are as dangerous or more so, compared to some of the “public safety” jobs. Johnathon Good is a corrections officer, Ryan De Vries is a police officer III, Terra Kinney is a motor vehicle enforcement officer, and Susan Baker is a drafter for the University of Northern Iowa. Excerpt from page 7 of the petition:

The arbitrary definition of “Public Safety Employee,” the arbitrary classification of public employees as “Public Safety Employees” or other public employees and the arbitrary classification of bargaining units into those whose members are at least thirty percent “Public Safety Employees” and those whose members are not which are included in the Amendments deprive Officer Good, Officer De Vries, and Ms. Baker of the constitutional guaranty of equality of all before the law that is set forth in Art. I, § 6 of the Iowa Constitution.

The petition also argues that “transition procedures” altering and terminating bargaining procedures and schedules established in the union contracts violate Article I, section 21 of the Iowa Constitution, which prohibits passing a “law impairing the obligation of contracts.”

Before the text of House File 291 became public, Republican lawmakers were rumored to be at odds over whether to exempt “public safety workers” from most of the new restrictions on collective bargaining. Supposedly Iowa House Republicans opposed that division, while key GOP senators wanted to copy the political strategy used in Wisconsin six years ago. The collective bargaining bill Iowa House Republicans approved in 2011 did not treat law enforcement officers or firefighters differently from other public employees.

Sources in Iowa’s labor community expect other lawsuits challenging the collective bargaining law to be filed later this year. The two main union-busting provisions are seen as particularly ripe for challenge: onerous election requirements for unions to stay certified, and a ban on automatic payroll deductions for union members, even though employees will still be able to automatically deduct membership fees in other professional associations and recurring charitable donations. Neither provision was part of the 2011 Iowa House collective bargaining bill.

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Standing in Solidarity Speech

On Saturday, February 4th, 2017, Linn County Supervisor Stacey Walker joined several organizations from around the state at Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church in Cedar Rapids, Iowa to call for fair policing and justice reform. Below is the speech Supervisor Walker gave at the event. -promoted by desmoinesdem

Thank you all for coming here today as we stand in solidarity.

Thank you to Pastor Epps for opening the doors of this church for this very important community event.

And to the Mitchell family. We are all here for you today.

Since that fateful night in November, when Jerime Mitchell was fired upon three times at close range, with one bullet entering his neck, leaving him paralyzed, much has been said by many people in this community. These incidents tend to be controversial in nature for many reasons, one of them being our society tends to hold certain institutions as sacrosanct. And any time those institutions are challenged or questioned, our society divides itself into two camps: those who believe certain institutions are infallible and those who wish to hold all institutions to an equal account.

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Trump delivers stolen Supreme Court seat to Neil Gorsuch

President Donald Trump announced this evening that he is nominating 10th Circuit Appeals Court Judge Neil Gorsuch for the U.S. Supreme Court seat that should have gone to President Barack Obama’s nominee. A few good backgrounders on the man who will benefit from last year’s unprecedented Republican obstruction: Eric Citron for SCOTUS blog, Robert Barnes for the Washington Post, and Adam Liptak for the New York Times. Liptak dug up a 2002 article by Gorsuch, in which he lamented the Senate’s treatment of two appeals court nominees “widely considered to be among the finest lawyers of their generation”: John Roberts (the current Chief Justice) and Merrick Garland (who should have been confirmed to fill this vacancy).

USA Today’s justice reporter Brad Heath observed, “It would be hard for Trump to have picked a federal appellate judge more like Scalia than Gorsuch.” Heath posted excerpts from a number of Gorsuch’s opinions in this thread, noting the judge believes in “applying the Constitution’s ‘original public meaning.’” Some of the rulings are counter-intuitive, such as this case in which Gorsuch found “extortion doesn’t violate the Equal Protection Clause if [the] corrupt official solicited bribes from everyone.”

Senator Chuck Grassley praised Gorsuch for being well qualified and having been confirmed unanimously to the appeals court. Speaking to the Des Moines Register’s Jason Noble, the Judiciary Committee chair said he hoped Democrats would not filibuster Gorsuch, just as Republicans didn’t filibuster Supreme Court nominees during the first terms of Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. What’s missing from this narrative? Grassley never even gave Garland a hearing.

After the jump I’ve posted prepared statements from Grassley and Senator Joni Ernst welcoming the nomination. I also enclose below the Alliance for Justice fact sheet on Gorsuch, which references many of his legal writings. That non-profit’s president Nan Aron described Gorsuch as a “disastrous choice,” because his “record shows no sign that he would offer an independent check on the dangerous impulses of this administration. What it does show is that he would put the agenda of powerful special interests ahead of the rights of everyday people […].”

Gorsuch is only 49 years old, so he will probably serve on the high court for decades. Several analysts believe picking him was an effort to “reassure” Justice Anthony Kennedy “that it would be safe to retire.” Once Kennedy goes and Trump appoints another justice, we can say goodbye to reproductive rights, voting rights, any kind of environmental and labor regulations, consumer protections, and equal rights for women and LGBTQ people. The Supreme Court will for all practical purposes be unavailable as a check on Republican governance.

While conservatives across the country celebrate tonight, a few locals may be disappointed Trump passed over 8th Circuit Appeals Court Judge Steven Colloton of Iowa. Colloton and Iowa Supreme Court Justice Edward Mansfield were both on the long list of possible Supreme Court nominees Trump released during the campaign. By some recent accounts, Colloton was on the president’s short list after the election too. Maybe next time.

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