Four ways the Iowa Supreme Court may handle next big abortion case

The Iowa Supreme Court will soon revisit one of the most politically charged questions of our time.

Last week a Johnson County District Court permanently blocked the state from “implementing, effectuating or enforcing” a law requiring a 24-hour waiting period before all abortions. Judge Mitchell Turner ruled the law unconstitutional on two grounds. The state is appealing the ruling and argues that a 2018 Iowa Supreme Court precedent, which established a fundamental right to an abortion under the Iowa Constitution, was “wrongly decided.”

Republican lawmakers planned for this scenario when they approved the waiting period during the waning hours of the 2020 legislative session. They may get their wish, but a reversal of the 2018 decision is not guaranteed.

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Waterloo's "ban the box" ordinance survives in part—for now

The Iowa Supreme Court ruled on June 18 that part of the city of Waterloo’s “ban the box” ordinance can remain in effect despite a 2017 law prohibiting local governments from regulating “terms or conditions of employment.”

The city adopted the ordinance in November 2019 to address economic racial disparities. Because African Americans are more likely to have a criminal record, they are adversely affected by job applications that require a person to note whether they have ever been arrested or convicted of a crime.

Under Waterloo’s ordinance, employers may not inquire about past convictions, arrests, or pending criminal charges “during the application process,” but may do so after extending “a conditional offer of employment.” The court found that was allowed, because it regulates only “the time when an employer can inquire into a prospective employee’s criminal history,” which is not “a term or condition of employment.”

However, the Iowa Supreme Court held that state law preempts other portions of Waterloo’s ordinance, which prohibit employers from making an “adverse hiring decision” based on an applicant’s criminal history.

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Revised lawsuit challenges Iowa's newest voter suppression law

Plaintiffs challenging Iowa’s manifold new restrictions on voting amended their complaint on June 9 to incorporate provisions in a law Governor Kim Reynolds signed the previous day.

The League of United Latin American Citizens of Iowa (LULAC) filed suit in Polk County District Court in March, charging that Senate File 413 violated Iowa constitutional provisions on the right to vote, free speech, free assembly, and equal protection. Their revised petition asks the court to invalidate two sections of Senate File 568 as well as thirteen sections of the law enacted earlier this year.

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University of Iowa can't keep utilities deal secrets from auditor

The University of Iowa must comply with a subpoena from State Auditor Rob Sand seeking details on a 50-year deal to lease the university’s utility system to a public-private partnership, the Iowa Supreme Court unanimously determined on April 30.

The Iowa Board of Regents approved the arrangement in December 2019 and closed on the deal in March 2020. But the university withheld many details, including the identity of “Iowa-based investors” who supposedly put up about 21.5 percent of the $1.165 billion lump-sum payment to operate the system for the next five decades.

The State Auditor’s office has been trying to enforce Sand’s subpoena since January 2020. The university and Board of Regents insisted they did not have to provide “confidential” information and disputed the validity of the subpoena.

None of the Supreme Court justices found the university’s stance convincing.

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Law blocking health care for trans Iowans facing new court challenge

Two years ago this week, on the day before the Iowa legislature completed its work for 2019, Republicans added two new discriminatory provisions to the state’s health and human services budget. Both code sections quickly spawned litigation. Planned Parenthood’s lawsuit against language designed to exclude the organization from sex education grants is now pending before the Iowa Supreme Court, after a District Court found the prohibition violated the state constitution’s equal protection guarantee.

A case challenging language that authorized discrimination against transgender Iowans on Medicaid never got that far. But on April 22, the ACLU of Iowa and the national ACLU LGBTQ & HIV Project filed a new lawsuit in Polk County District Court.

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