Who's up for some good news on Friday the 13th? Part of former Secretary of State Matt Schultz's legacy of voter suppression died today. The Iowa Supreme Court will not hear an appeal of a District Court decision that invalidated Schultz's effort to enact rules on purging Iowa voter rolls. The court dismissed the case at the request of the Secretary of State's Office.
Schultz's top priority as secretary of state was to change state law to require all voters to show photo ID when casting ballots in person. That change required new legislation, which was a non-starter as long as the Iowa Senate remained under Democratic control.
So Schultz used other methods to battle what he depicted as a widespread voter fraud problem in Iowa. Federal funds allocated under the Help America Vote Act were misused to pay for criminal investigations producing few identified cases of wrongful voter registration and even fewer cases of ineligible voters casting ballots.
Schultz also used the administrative rulemaking process to promote his agenda. Beginning in the summer of 2012, he sought access to a federal database in order to identify suspected non-citizens and remove them from Iowa's voter rolls. After efforts to use emergency rulemaking before the 2012 elections failed, Schultz went through the ordinary process to enact new rules on maintaining the voter rolls. Under his system, voters whose names matched those of non-citizens on a federal database would be notified and asked to prove within a certain time frame that they were eligible to vote.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa and the League of United Latin American Citizens of Iowa filed suit, charging that the rule would "wrongly restrict voting by qualified Iowans," because "the databases contain numerous points of error in information, were never designed to cross-check voters, contain insufficient data to do so comprehensively, and put the burden on voters to prove their citizenship if they are identified, rightly or wrongly."
In March 2014, a Polk County District Court found that Schultz exceeded his authority when he promulgated the rule, because Iowa Code does not give the secretary of state the power to challenge a registered voter's registration, or to cancel that registration because of a question over citizenship. Schultz appealed to the Iowa Supreme Court.
The ACLU of Iowa announced today that "the Iowa Supreme Court granted a request from the Iowa Secretary of State's office to dismiss the state's appeal" in the case. I enclose the full press release below.
Republican Secretary of State Paul Pate didn't get my vote, but he has already shown that he is smarter than his predecessor. I believe the Iowa Supreme Court would have upheld the lower court's ruling. Now Pate won't suffer the consequences for Schultz's overreach.
A mystery lingers: why did Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller go along with Schultz's efforts to enact this rule? I know the Attorney General's Office is supposed to defend state officials in litigation, so I understand why they asked the Polk County District Court to dismiss the lawsuit. But Miller went above and beyond by standing next to Schultz at a press conference in the summer of 2012 and defending the emergency rulemaking as a "balance between ensuring voting integrity and preventing voter suppression."
UPDATE: From Jason Noble's report for the Des Moines Register:
In a statement, Pate said he voluntarily declined to continue the appeal after consulting with the Attorney General's Office and will focus now on "building the most accurate voter registration list for Iowa."
"I will use my authority to the fullest extent of state and federal law to ensure accurate voter lists," Pate said. "There are other ways to accomplish the same goal without pursuing a course with significant legal hurdles."
If staff from the Attorney General's Office encouraged Pate to drop the appeal, good for them. I still wonder why Miller lent credibility to Schultz's rulemaking in the first place.
ACLU of Iowa press release, March 13
Victory for Voting Rights: State Drops Voter Purge Appeal
Des Moines, Iowa - Today the Iowa Supreme Court granted a request from the Iowa Secretary of State's office to dismiss the state's appeal in the case ACLU of Iowa and LULAC of Iowa v. Matt Schultz.
In a March 2014 district court ruling, the ACLU and League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) won their voting rights case against the former Secretary of State's office. That decision invalidated a series of regulations the Secretary of State adopted to identify, challenge, and remove suspected non-citizens from Iowa's registered voter rolls. The scheme was similar to voter purges in other states like Florida and Colorado, where thousands of voters were wrongfully disenfranchised.
The district court decided that the actions of the former Secretary of State, Matt Schultz, were unlawful. The state appealed, and the parties have been litigating the case in the Iowa Supreme Court for approximately a year. The case was set for final submission later this month.
The state dropping its appeal means that the permanent injunction stopping Schultz's unlawful attempts at a voter purge will remain in place.
"This is an important victory for the protection of voters' rights in Iowa," said Rita Bettis, legal director of the ACLU of Iowa. "It means that Iowans will not have to worry about the voter purges we've seen take effect in other states with a disastrous impact, especially for new U.S. citizens and Latinos."
Joe Glazebrook, an ACLU cooperating attorney in the case, said, "Iowans can now rest assured that their right to vote will not be infringed by the Secretary of State. We are pleased that because of this action, the court order declaring these rules illegal will be allowed to stand, and the unfortunate wounds caused by these rules will begin to heal. We certainly hope that in the future, government officials will keep this lesson in mind and will work towards expanding and protecting the right to vote as opposed to curtailing it."
The case attracted attention and support from important voting rights organizations nationally. Several organizations filed friend-of-the-court briefs in the case in opposition to the voter removal efforts: Project Vote, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO), the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project (SVREP), and Latino Justice PRLDEF had filed briefs in the case.
Bettis said, "We are incredibly thankful to our client, LULAC of Iowa, for its work to advance and protect the rights of Latino voters, and to Joseph Glazebrook, who argued the case so well at the district court level."
Because the ACLU and LULAC secured a temporary injunction early in the case, the voter purge initiated by emergency administrative rule-making shortly before the 2012 general election was never allowed to take effect.
Jeremy Rosen, ACLU of Iowa executive director, said "This case is part of a broader effort nationally to push back on unfair voting restrictions by politicians that make it harder for people to vote, who are more likely to be minorities, poor people, the elderly, students, and people with disabilities.""