More lawsuits challenge eminent domain for Bakken pipeline

Owners of two farms in Cherokee County filed lawsuits on May 20 seeking to block the Texas-based oil company Energy Transfer Partners from seizing their land for the Dakota Access (Bakken) pipeline, William Petroski reported for the Des Moines Register. I enclose excerpts from his story below.

Like a separate lawsuit filed in Polk County last month, these legal claims are based on a 2006 Iowa law, which was designed to protect farmland from being condemned for private development. The plaintiffs argue the Iowa Utilities Board erred when it authorized a private company that is not a utility to use eminent domain.

Regardless of how district courts decide these claims, the Iowa Supreme Court will likely be the final voice on whether state law allows the use of eminent domain for this project.

Dakota Access started Bakken pipeline construction in North Dakota, South Dakota, and Illinois this week, but the Iowa Utilities Board denied the company’s request to start building here. O.Kay Henderson reported for Radio Iowa that the board’s legal counsel noted the oil company "has not filed all the necessary permits and associated verifications to begin construction." Although the board approved the permit to build the Bakken pipeline in March, as did the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, the Army Corps of Engineers has not yet approved permits for portions of the pipeline that would cross federal land.

Brian Morelli and Rod Boshart reported for the Cedar Rapids Gazette on the Private Property Rights Coalition’s work to educate landowners along the pipeline route about the eminent domain process and "legal options if they refuse to voluntarily sign easement agreements with the oil company." One of that group’s leaders is Keith Puntenney, who has not signed an easement for his farmland in Boone and Webster counties. Puntenney is also the Democratic challenger to State Senator Jerry Behn in Iowa Senate district 24.

More resources for landowners and citizens who oppose the pipeline project are available on the website of the Bakken Pipeline Resistance Coalition, uniting more than two dozen Iowa non-profit organizations. I expect Bakken opponents to make their presence known when U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota comes to Des Moines as the featured guest for the Iowa Democratic Party’s Hall of Fame event next month.

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Steve King explains what he needs to hear before endorsing Donald Trump

Representative Steve King is "not ready" to endorse Donald Trump for president yet, he told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on May 17. The seven-term Republican who represents Iowa’s fourth district was Senator Ted Cruz’s top surrogate here before the Iowa caucuses. Speaking to the Des Moines Register earlier this month, King indicated that he would be inclined to support Trump if the billionaire becomes the Republican presidential nominee in July. At that time, King said, "I’m keeping my powder dry and I want to see what Donald Trump has to say. This is a difficult thing for a lot of people to swallow, but I don’t want to encourage them to jump on the Never Trump bandwagon and I don’t want to encourage an alternative candidate."

During yesterday’s CNN interview, King spelled out more clearly what needs to happen for him to endorse Trump’s candidacy.

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Was "streamlined" voting rights process designed for felons or Iowa Supreme Court justices?

Last week, Governor Terry Branstad’s office rolled out a new "streamlined application form for those seeking a restoration of their voting rights," so that "Iowa’s already simple voting rights restoration process will become even more efficient and convenient."

"Simple," "efficient," and "convenient" wouldn’t be my choice of words to describe a process used successfully by less than two-tenths of 1 percent of affected Iowans since Branstad ended the automatic restoration of voting rights for felons five years ago. The governor’s first stab at simplifying the system in December 2012 did not significantly increase the number of Iowans applying to get their rights back. Three years after that change, fewer than 100 individuals out of roughly 57,000 who had completed felony sentences since January 2011 had regained the right to vote.

The new double-plus-streamlined process seems unlikely to produce a large wave of enfranchised Iowans, because it leaves intact major barriers.

The latest announcement looks like an attempt to convince Iowa Supreme Court justices that they need not intervene to give tens of thousands of felons any realistic hope of exercising a fundamental constitutional right again.

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Why is Iowa's secretary of state playing politics with felon voting case?

Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate is a defendant in Kelli Jo Griffin’s lawsuit claiming Iowa violates her constitutional rights by disenfranchising all felons. The Iowa Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case on March 30. Justices are expected to decide by the end of June whether to uphold the current system or declare that Iowa’s constitutional provision on "infamous crimes" should not apply to all felonies.

Defendants typically refrain from commenting on pending litigation, but during the past three weeks, Pate has carried out an extraordinary public effort to discredit the plaintiffs in the voting rights case. In his official capacity, he has addressed a large radio audience and authored an op-ed column run by many Iowa newspapers.

Pate amped up his attack on "the other side" in speeches at three of the four Iowa GOP district conventions on April 9. After misrepresenting the goals of Griffin’s allies and distorting how a ruling for the plaintiff could alter Iowa’s electorate, the secretary of state asked hundreds of Republican activists for their help in fighting against those consequences.

At a minimum, the secretary of state has used this lawsuit to boost his own standing. Even worse, his words could be aimed at intimidating the "unelected judges" who have yet to rule on the case. Regardless of Pate’s motives, his efforts to politicize a pending Supreme Court decision are disturbing.

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Grassley/Garland chapter two

Grassley has long used the idea that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit doesn’t need more judges as an pretext for not confirming Democratic presidents’ nominees to the "second-most-powerful court" in the country.. -promoted by desmoinesdem

jiu jitsu politics 101

I know we’re all getting upset over the stalled Supreme Court nomination of Merrick Garland. President Obama is trying to get things done and the Republican’ts won’t let him. It’s unconscionable, it’s unAmerican and pretty damn unctuous.

But consider this… Why would BO pick this (conservative but) consistently fair guy to the court knowing that the petulant children on the Hill will sooner pass a kidney stone than confirm his pick for anything other than…well, anything?

I didn’t understand until I read this piece from Reuters that reminded us Garland and Grassley have some ‘history’ I hadn’t seen before.

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One Iowa House Republican's strange and lonely battle against marriage equality

Seven years have passed since the Iowa Supreme Court struck down our state’s Defense of Marriage Act. The Republican-controlled Iowa House failed to approve a constitutional amendment to overturn that court ruling more than three years ago. Fewer than a quarter of GOP state representatives were willing to co-sponsor the marriage amendment in 2015. Even if Iowa lawmakers tried to turn back the clock on marriage equality, the effort would be futile, since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that all states must recognize marriages between same-sex couples.

Nevertheless, one Iowa House Republican won’t let this fight go. Today he seized on an unusual and futile way to register his discontent with the Iowa Supreme Court’s Varnum v Brien decision.

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