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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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.

Smooth sailing for Iowa Supreme Court justices up for retention in 2016

Three of the seven Iowa Supreme Court justices who concurred in the historic Varnum v Brien ruling on marriage equality lost their jobs in the 2010 judicial retention elections. A fourth survived a similar campaign against retaining him in 2012.

The last three Varnum justices, including the author of the unanimous opinion striking down our state’s Defense of Marriage Act, will appear on Iowa ballots this November. At this writing, no one seems to be organizing any effort to vote them off the bench. Iowa’s anti-retention campaigns in 2010 and 2012 were well under way by the end of August, but the social conservatives who spearheaded those efforts have shown no interest in repeating the experience.

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Iowa House district 41: Jo Oldson's and Eddie Mauro's pitches to voters

UPDATE: Oldson won this race by a 67 percent to 33 percent margin.

One of the most closely-watched state legislative results tonight will be the contest between seven-term State Representative Jo Oldson and Democratic challenger Eddie Mauro in Iowa House district 41. The district covering parts of the west and south sides of Des Moines contains more than twice as many Democrats as Republicans, so the winner of today’s primary will almost certainly be elected in November, even if the GOP nominates a candidate late here. (No one filed in time to run in the GOP primary.)

Both campaigns have been working the phones and knocking on doors for months. Iowa’s two largest labor unions, AFSCME and the Iowa Federation of Labor, as well as the National Abortion Rights Action League have been doing GOTV for Oldson, as have a number of her fellow Iowa House Democrats. As of May 24, the early voting numbers in House district 41 were higher than for any other state House race.

Bleeding Heartland posted background on Oldson and Mauro here. I’ve encouraged my friends in the district to stick with Oldson. She has been a reliable progressive vote on major legislation, and she was among only thirteen House Democrats to vote against the costly and ineffective 2013 commercial property tax cut. I have no problem with an entrenched incumbent facing a primary challenge. No one is entitled to hold a legislative seat for life. But even if women were not already underrepresented in the Iowa House—which they are and will continue to be—I would need a better reason to replace a capable incumbent than the reasons Mauro has offered in his literature and in an interview with me last month. Excerpts from that interview are below, along with examples of campaign literature Democrats in House district 41 have been receiving in the mailbox and at the doorstep.

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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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