Iowa Supreme Court Justice Mansfield on Trump's expanded list for SCOTUS

Iowa Supreme Court Justice Edward Mansfield is among ten new names on Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s list of possible U.S. Supreme Court appointees, multiple journalists reported today.

Former Governor Chet Culver appointed Mansfield to the Iowa Court of Appeals in 2009. He was a workhorse on that bench, writing some 200 opinions in less than two years. Since Governor Terry Branstad named him to the Iowa Supreme Court in February 2011, Mansfield has been one of the court’s most prolific opinion writers. He is part of a conservative bloc of justices including the other two Branstad most recently appointed.

Mansfield’s judicial philosophy would appeal to many conservatives. He rarely joins what might be called "activist" decisions to overturn state law, administrative rule, or executive body determinations. In this year’s biggest case, Mansfield was part of a 4-3 majority upholding Iowa’s broad ban on voting by people with felony convictions. He has not joined various majority opinions related to juvenile sentencing, including one this year that held "juvenile offenders may not be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole" under Iowa’s Constitution. He dissented from a 2014 ruling that allowed a lawsuit against top Branstad administration officials to proceed.

Social conservatives might be encouraged by the fact that three years ago, Mansfield hinted in a one-paragraph concurrence that he does not agree with the legal reasoning underpinning the Iowa Supreme Court’s 2009 Varnum v Brien decision on marriage equality. However, he has never clarified whether he would have upheld Iowa’s Defense of Marriage Act or struck it down on different grounds.

The biggest red flag about Mansfield from a conservative perspective would probably be his decision to join last year’s unanimous ruling to strike down Iowa’s ban on telemedicine for abortion services. When the State Judicial Nominating Commission put Mansfield on the short list for the Iowa Supreme Court in early 2011, some conservatives grumbled that the judge’s wife was an active supporter of Planned Parenthood. Though the telemed abortion decision was grounded in the law and medical facts, critics may view Mansfield as untrustworthy on one of their key priorities for the U.S. Supreme Court: overturning Roe v Wade. I am not aware of Mansfield expressing any public opinion on that landmark 1973 abortion rights ruling.

One other Iowan is on Trump’s long list for the Supreme Court. Judge Steven Colloton of Des Moines, who serves on the Eighth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, was one of eleven names the Trump campaign released soon after locking up the GOP nomination. I enclose below more background on Colloton.

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Group polled Iowans on Supreme Court retention vote (updated)

Leaders of the campaigns to oust Iowa Supreme Court justices in 2010 and 2012 have chosen not to engage in this year’s retention elections, which will decide whether the last three justices who participated in Iowa’s marriage equality ruling will stay on the bench.

However, the coalition formed to stop "extremists from hijacking Iowa’s courts" is taking no chances. Justice Not Politics commissioned a statewide poll last week to gauge voters’ attitudes toward Chief Justice Mark Cady and Justices Brent Appel and Daryl Hecht, as well as some issues related to controversial Iowa Supreme Court rulings.

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Latest PPP survey shows Clinton up by 2, Grassley by 6

Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton leads Republican Donald Trump by 45 percent to 43 percent in a two-way race, and U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley leads Democratic challenger Patty Judge by 49 percent to 43 percent, according to a Public Policy Polling survey of 827 "likely voters" in Iowa on August 30 and 31. PPP conducted the poll on behalf of We Need Nine, which advocates for filling the U.S. Supreme Court vacancy as a project of the Constitutional Responsibility Project. (That advocacy group has spent $31,273 so far against Grassley.)

PPP did not include minor-party presidential candidates in its ballot test, and at this writing no cross-tabs are available to shed light on Clinton’s narrow lead over Trump. The main purpose of the survey was to gauge support for Grassley and Iowa voters’ opinions on the Supreme Court vacancy.

For those wondering about priming effects—that is, whether the pollster "primed" respondents to evaluate Grassley on this issue in order to reduce his lead over Judge—PPP asked respondents about the Senate race before the series of questions about judicial confirmations. It’s worth noting that PPP did some internal polling for Judge’s campaign before the Democratic primary in June.

Buzzfeed’s Chris Geidner was first to report on this survey. I enclose below excerpts from PPP’s polling memo and other findings from the survey.

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Key funder confirms no plans to go after Iowa Supreme Court justices

The National Organization for Marriage does not plan any "campaigning or intervention" in this year’s retention elections for three Iowa Supreme Court justices, Grant Rodgers reported for the Des Moines Register on September 5. The group was the largest single funder of the two previous anti-retention campaigns, contributing more than $635,000 to help oust three justices in 2010 and more than $148,000 to the unsuccessful effort to remove Justice David Wiggins two years later.

The last three justices involved in Iowa’s 2009 marriage equality ruling will be on the ballot this November: Chief Justice Mark Cady, author of the Varnum v Brien decision, and Justices Brent Appel and Daryl Hecht. National Organization for Marriage spokesperson Joe Grabowski told Rodgers, "There’s nothing planned at this time," adding that "We always keep our options open."

Those options are fading fast, with early voting set to begin in Iowa on Thursday, September 29. The previous two anti-retention campaigns, led by social conservative activist Bob Vander Plaats, were well underway by the end of August 2010 and 2012. As Bleeding Heartland discussed here, Vander Plaats and his allies have not signaled any plan to go after the Iowa Supreme Court justices. It’s a remarkable admission of weakness on their part, but also a rational decision. Convincing voters to remove justices over same-sex marriage (now allowed in all 50 states) would be a tall order, especially in a presidential election year, which brings out hundreds of thousands more voters than a typical midterm election.

This year’s high-profile voting rights case could have provided fodder for an anti-retention campaign, but that scenario failed to materialize when Cady joined three other justices to uphold Iowa’s current broad lifetime ban on voting by most people convicted of felonies.

Rodgers discussed another possible peg for a campaign against Cady, Appel, and Hecht: all joined a 4-3 decision (authored by Appel), which held that "juvenile offenders may not be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole under article I, section 17 of the Iowa Constitution." You can read the majority opinion, concurring opinions, and dissents in Iowa v. Sweet here. The majority ruling drew heavily on a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court decision, which invalidated mandatory life without parole sentences for juveniles, and several 2013 Iowa Supreme Court cases related to juvenile sentencing. Cady, Appel, and Hecht were all part of the majority in those 2013 cases.

Rodgers spoke to Lyle Burnett and Josh Hauser, who have experienced the tragedy of losing a loved one to a teenage killer. Both oppose retaining the three justices on the ballot this November, but "So far, neither Hauser nor Burnett have been contacted by any group or political organization that could elevate their personal campaigns." Two victims’ advocates quoted in the Register said they do not support ousting Cady, Appel, and Hecht over this issue. It’s worth noting that neither the Iowa Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling in State v Ragland nor this year’s decision in Sweet guaranteed the release of any convicted murderer. Parole boards will still have discretion to approve or deny parole, based on expert assessments of whether the prisoner has been rehabilitated or still poses a danger to society.

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