# Dana Oxley



How far can Iowa Republicans go to ban abortion? (updated)

The worst-case scenario for bodily autonomy in Iowa played out over the past ten days. First, the Iowa Supreme Court on June 17 overturned its own 2018 precedent that established a fundamental right to abortion, protected by the state constitution. Then, the U.S. Supreme Court on June 24 overturned the 1973 Roe v Wade decision that established a federal constitutional right to an abortion, and the related Casey decision of 1992.

Top Iowa Republicans immediately promised further action to restrict abortion, which is now legal in Iowa up to 20 weeks of pregnancy. It’s not yet clear when they will try to pass a new law, which exceptions (if any) may be on the table, or whether a ban modeled on other state laws could survive an Iowa court challenge.

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Only five applied for Iowa Supreme Court vacancy

The State Judicial Nominating Commission will interview an unusually small number of applicants for the Iowa Supreme Court vacancy to be created when Justice Brent Appel reaches the mandatory retirement age next month.

Only five people—three judges and two attorneys in private practice—applied for the position, the Iowa Judicial Branch announced on June 20. The commission will interview Third Judicial District Chief Judge Patrick Tott, Ames attorney Timothy Gartin, Des Moines attorney William Miller, District Court Judge Alan Heavens, and Iowa Court of Appeals Judge David May on June 27. The commissioners will send three names to Governor Kim Reynolds, who will have 30 days to appoint the next justice from that short list.

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Iowa Supreme Court's abortion reversal may cast long shadow

Five Iowa Supreme Court justices allowed a 24-hour waiting period for all abortions to go into effect and opened the door to more sweeping restrictions on June 17, when justices overturned the court’s 2018 precedent that had found the Iowa Constitution protects a fundamental right to seek an abortion.

The outcome is precisely what Republican legislators were seeking two years ago, when (buoyed by unusually rapid turnover on Iowa’s highest court) they passed a law nearly identical to the one struck down in the 2018 case.

Two dissenting justices warned that the latest decision injects “instability” and “confusion” into Iowa’s legal landscape, because the court’s majority did not establish a new standard for evaluating the constitutionality of abortion restrictions. Two justices signaled they would allow almost any limits on the procedure. Three justices indicated they might be open to a similar approach, or might strike a different balance that recognizes some bodily autonomy for Iowans wanting to terminate a pregnancy.

In the words of Justice Brent Appel, the majority set forth “a jurisprudence of doubt about a liberty interest of the highest possible importance to every Iowa woman of reproductive age.”

The ruling may also undermine public confidence that Iowa Supreme Court rulings are grounded in legal analysis, rather than politics.

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Iowa's new garbage search law looks unconstitutional

Iowans have “no reasonable expectation of privacy in garbage placed outside of the person’s residence for waste collection in a publicly accessible area,” according to a bill Governor Kim Reynolds signed into law on April 21.

Lawmakers approved Senate File 2296 in response to a June 2021 Iowa Supreme Court ruling, which declared warrantless garbage searches unconstitutional.

Whether the new law can withstand scrutiny is unclear. Attorneys who opposed the bill have pointed out that the legislature and governor cannot override the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the state constitution. But it could be years before a challenge to the law reaches the high court.

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Three takeaways from Iowa's latest transgender equality ruling

Nearly fifteen years after state legislators and Governor Chet Culver added sexual orientation and gender identity to the Iowa Civil Rights Act, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled on the first employment discrimination lawsuit brought by a transgender Iowan.

On April 1 the seven justices unanimously upheld a Polk County jury verdict, which found that the Iowa Department of Corrections unlawfully discriminated against plaintiff Jesse Vroegh. Superiors refused to allow Vroegh to use male restrooms and locker rooms when he worked as a nurse at the Iowa Correctional Institute for Women.

The court also upheld the jury’s finding that the state discriminated against Vroegh by refusing to cover gender-affirming “top” surgery, even though the state’s insurance plan would have covered a double mastectomy for a medical need not related to gender identity.

But breaking with the U.S. Supreme Court, six Iowa Supreme Court justices determined that gender identity discrimination did not also constitute discrimination against Vroegh on the basis of sex.

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What the Supreme Court said—and didn't say—in Finkenauer case

The Iowa Supreme Court surprised many in the political and legal worlds on April 15 with a unanimous judgment reinstating U.S. Senate candidate Abby Finkenauer to the Democratic primary ballot.

Five justices resolved an apparent contradiction between two parts of Iowa’s election law by saying an incorrect or missing date is not a valid reason for not counting a signature on a candidate’s petition. They reversed a Polk County District Court, which days earlier reached the opposite conclusion: that an undated signature cannot be counted, and therefore Finkenauer did not qualify for the ballot.

Two justices concurred with the outcome of reversing the lower court but did not explain their reasoning.

The result was a big loss for Republican plaintiffs who challenged the State Objection Panel’s decision to let three disputed signatures on Finkenauer’s petitions stand. It’s also an embarrassment for Republican legislators who moved last year to limit the panel’s discretion.

By deciding this case on narrow grounds, the Iowa Supreme Court left some big legal questions to be adjudicated another election year.

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