Sleeper Iowa Supreme Court ruling undermines constitutional protections

A little-noticed Iowa Supreme Court decision may leave Iowans more vulnerable to infringements of their constitutional rights.

Five justices held in Baldwin v. City of Estherville that government officials who can prove they “exercised all due care to conform with the requirements of the law” can’t be sued for wrongful arrests or searches and seizures. Justice Edward Mansfield’s majority opinion establishes qualified immunity for state constitutional law claims in Iowa. That legal concept means plaintiffs can’t easily sue individual officials (such as police officers) for violating their rights. The U.S. Supreme Court’s broad application of qualified immunity has become a hot topic of debate among legal scholars.

To my knowledge, no Iowa media have reported on Baldwin, which was overshadowed by higher-profile split decisions the state Supreme Court filed on the same day in June: namely, a landmark 5-2 abortion rights ruling and a 4-3 ruling that allowed a county attorney to return to his job despite a well-documented history of sexual harassment.

But dissenting Justice Brent Appel warned the Baldwin majority opinion may encourage abuses of power: “Rather than follow the state’s motto, ‘Our Liberties We Prize and Our Rights We Will Maintain,’ the majority follows an approach that suggests ‘Our Liberties Are Transient and Our Rights Are Expendable.’” Professor Mark Kende, director of Drake University’s Constitutional Law Center, told Bleeding Heartland last month that Baldwin could be an “‘under the radar’ big deal case.”

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Iowa Supreme Court holds state constitution protects right to abortion

Five Iowa Supreme Court justices ruled today that a mandatory 72-hour waiting period for all women seeking abortion violates due process rights and equal protection guaranteed under the state constitution. Planned Parenthood of the Heartland and the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa had challenged that provision, part of a law Republican legislators and Governor Terry Branstad enacted in 2017.

Today’s decision guarantees that the 2018 law banning almost all abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected will be struck down. A lawsuit filed by Planned Parenthood, the ACLU of Iowa, and the Emma Goldman Clinic is pending in Polk County District Court.

In addition, the ruling indicates that even if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision in the coming years, Republicans will be unable to ban or severely restrict abortion rights in our state.

Writing for the majority, Chief Justice Mark Cady rejected the “undue burden” standard for evaluating abortion restrictions, set out by the U.S. Supreme Court in its 1992 Casey decision. I enclose below the full text of the majority opinion and the dissent by Justice Edward Mansfield, whom President Donald Trump has named as a possible U.S. Supreme Court pick. I’ve excerpted some of the most important passages.

A separate section of the 2017 law, banning almost all abortions after 20 weeks gestation, was not challenged in this case and remains in effect.

Some Iowa judicial trivia: today marks the second time the Iowa Supreme Court has overturned an abortion-related ruling by Polk County District Court Judge Jeffrey Farrell. He had also upheld the administrative rule banning the use of telemedicine for abortion. The Supreme Court unanimously struck down that rule in 2015.

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Fifteen women, seven men apply for Iowa Supreme Court vacancy

Federal courts will be lost for a generation as an avenue for protecting civil liberties, now that President Donald Trump will be able to replace U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy in addition to stacking district and circuit courts with dozens of right-wing ideologues. (Iowa Supreme Court Justice Edward Mansfield and Eighth Circuit Appeals Court Judge Steven Colloton were on the list of 21 possible Supreme Court picks Trump released during the 2016 campaign.) The growing conservative grip on the federal courts means more and more important legal battles will be fought at the state level.

Governor Kim Reynolds will fill an Iowa Supreme Court vacancy later this year, after Justice Bruce Zager retires. Today the judicial branch published the applications for fifteen women and seven men who are seeking to replace Zager.

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How Iowa could have lost three Supreme Court justices in 2016

Remember how awful you felt on November 9, 2016, as you started to grasp what we were up against following the most devastating Iowa election in decades?

Would you believe the results could have been even worse?

Imagine Governor Terry Branstad appointing three right-wingers to the Iowa Supreme Court. It could have happened if conservative groups had targeted Chief Justice Mark Cady, Justice Brent Appel, and Justice Daryl Hecht with the resources and fervor they had applied against three justices in 2010.

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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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