District Court upholds Iowa law, Branstad executive order on disenfranchising felons

Polk County District Court Chief Judge Arthur Gamble on Monday dismissed a lawsuit that challenged Iowa’s restrictions on felon voting and procedure for regaining voting rights after a felony conviction. Kelli Jo Griffin filed the lawsuit last November, having previously been acquitted on perjury charges related to registering to vote and casting a ballot in a local election. Griffin did not realize she was ineligible to vote because of a prior drug conviction. The American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa is representing her in the case, which claims Iowa law and an executive order Governor Terry Branstad issued in January 2011 unconstitutionally restrict the plaintiff’s fundamental right to vote.

A plurality of three Iowa Supreme Court justices indicated last April that they do not believe all felonies rise to the level of “infamous crimes,” which under the Iowa Constitution justify revoking citizenship rights. But that opinion did not strike down current Iowa law, which holds that any felony conviction leads to the loss of voting rights. Chief Judge Gamble noted in his ruling that he is bound by precedent on felon voting cases “until a majority of the Iowa Supreme Court” rules otherwise.

The chief judge also determined that Branstad’s executive order does not unconstitutionally restrict Griffin’s voting rights, because the paperwork and fees required are “not an unreasonable burden for a felon to shoulder.” His conclusions don’t acknowledge certain realities about the arduous process Branstad established, which “made Iowa one of the most difficult states in the nation for felons who want to vote” and create more hurdles for low-income Iowans than for those with financial resources. I enclose more thoughts on that angle below, after excerpts from Gamble’s ruling.

The ACLU will appeal the District Court’s decision to the Iowa Supreme Court. Ever since an unlikely chain of events opened the door for the high court to re-examine felon voting rights, it’s been obvious some non-violent offender like Griffin would bring a test case resembling this one. The big question now is whether Justice Brent Appel, who recused himself from last year’s related case, will align with his three colleagues who appear ready to declare that certain felonies are not “infamous crimes.”

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Iowa reaction to Obama's executive action on immigration

President Barack Obama delivered a prime-time televised address last night to explain his new executive order on immigration. The order would remove the threat of deportation for an estimated 5 million of the 11 million immigrants who came to this country illegally. After the jump I’ve posted the full text of the president’s speech, as well as reaction from some members of Iowa’s Congressional delegation and several advocacy groups. I will update this post as needed.

Last year, Iowa’s U.S. senators split when the Senate approved a comprehensive immigration reform bill, which has never come up for a vote in the U.S. House. Just before Congress adjourned for five weeks this summer, Iowa’s representatives in the House split on party lines over a border security funding bill bill designed to speed up deportations of unaccompanied children entering this country. Likewise, Tom Latham (IA-03) and Steve King (IA-04) voted for and Bruce Braley (IA-01) and Dave Loebsack (IA-02) against a separate bill that would have reversed the president’s policy (announced two years ago) to suspend deportations of some undocumented immigrants who were brought to this country as children. Click here for background on those bills.

Note: King has been all over the national media the last couple of weeks, as journalists and pundits have discussed the president’s expected action on immigration. Over the summer, King raised the prospect that Obama could be impeached over unilateral action on immigration. But as you can see from statements posted below, more recently he has not advocated impeachment. Instead, King has called on Congress to defund the federal agencies that would carry out Obama’s executive order. Unfortunately for him, that approach is “impossible.”

Both Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton have expressed support for Obama’s executive order in the absence of Congressional action on comprehensive immigration reform.

Several Republican governors who may run for president in 2016 are considering legal action aimed at blocking the president’s executive order. Such a lawsuit could raise the standing of Texas Governor Rick Perry, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, or Indiana Governor Mike Pence with Iowa conservatives who are likely to participate in the next GOP caucuses. I am seeking comment on whether Iowa Governor Terry Branstad might join this legal action.

The Obama administration is already preparing a legal defense that would include precedent from the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2012 ruling on an Arizona law relating to illegal immigration. Federal officials “have always exercised discretion” in prioritizing cases for deportation.

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ACLU of Iowa and LULAC restart Voter Suppression Lawsuit against Iowa Secretary of State

(The full statement from the ACLU of Iowa and Iowa League of United Latin American Citizens is here. Schultz confirmed earlier this year that he planned to enact the new rules, but did not call attention to the issue this week.   - promoted by desmoinesdem)

March 29, 2013 

The ACLU of Iowa and Iowa LULAC today restarted their lawsuit to stop the Secretary of State from an unreliable process to remove registered voters if they cannot prove their U.S. citizenship within a limited time.

The ACLU of Iowa and the Iowa League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) filed papers in Polk County District court today, renewing their lawsuit against two rules filed by the Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz that the groups say wrongly restrict voting by qualified Iowans.

One rule would have allowed unverified challenges to another voter’s qualifications. The Secretary of State eventually voluntarily withdrew that rule. The other rule, which took effect yesterday, allows the Secretary of State to run Iowa’s registered voters through numerous federal databases to attempt to generate a list of non-citizens.

The ACLU and LULAC say that the Secretary of State was never authorized by the Iowa legislature to put his Voter Removal Rule forward, and that it will erroneously deprive qualified citizens in Iowa of their right to vote. The ACLU and LULAC cite problems with running the registered voter lists through the federal SAVE system, as well as a lack of procedural checks to protect voters once they are identified.

ACLU of Iowa Restarts Its Voter Suppression Lawsuit Against the Iowa Secretary of State

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Catch-up thread on Branstad appointments

Governor Terry Branstad announced some important personnel decisions in the past few days, naming former State Representative Libby Jacobs to chair the Iowa Utilities Board and three new members of the Board of Regents, including Bruce Rastetter.

Follow me after the jump for more on those and other Branstad administration appointments.

UPDATE: On March 1 President Barack Obama named Branstad to co-chair the Council of Governors, “established by the National Defense Authorization Act in 2008 to strengthen further partnership between the Federal and State governments as it pertains to national security.” Branstad will serve a two-year term as co-chair.

SECOND UPDATE: Branstad announced more than 200 appointments to state boards and commissions on March 2. Bleeding Heartland covered the four appointees to the Environmental Protection Commission here; all have ties to large agribusiness.

Another name that caught my eye was Eric Goranson, a lobbyist and parochial schools advocate whom Branstad named to the State Board of Education. He has been a leading critic of the Iowa Core Curriculum (see here and here). The Under the Golden Dome Blog argues that Goranson’s appointment may violate Iowa code, which states, “A voting member [of the Board of Education] shall not be engaged in professional education for a major portion of the member’s time nor shall the member derive a major portion of income from any business or activity connected with education.” Several of Goranson’s lobbying clients represent religious private schools or Christian home-schooling parents.

THIRD UPDATE: I forgot to mention Branstad’s two appointees to the State Judicial Nominating Commission: Helen St. Clair of Melrose and William Gustoff of Des Moines. I have been unable to find any information about Helen St. Clair, but a Maurice St. Clair of Melrose was among Branstad’s top 20 individual donors, contributing more than $45,000 to the gubernatorial campaign. I assume he is related to Helen St. Clair and will update this post if I confirm that. William Gustoff is a founding partner of the Whitaker Hagenow law firm, which includes Republican former U.S. attorney Matt Whitaker and State Representative Chris Hagenow. Branstad’s legal counsel Brenna Findley also worked at Whitaker Hagenow last year.

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