Consider Carrie Chapman Catt's whole life and legacy

Dianne Bystrom: As with any historical figure, Catt’s life should be evaluated in its total in making the decision about the naming of Catt Hall.

For the past 26 plus years, I have conducted research on women political leaders – especially their communication strategies and media coverage as compared to men. Although my published research in journal articles and books has focused on contemporary women political leaders, I’ve also studied the women’s suffrage movement as director of the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics at Iowa State University from July 1996 to August 2018. In my retirement, I speak often on the women’s suffrage movement and continue my reading and research on this topic.

From these perspectives, I offer my comments about Catt and the current consideration of the naming of Carrie Chapman Catt Hall at Iowa State University.

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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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Iowa's delegation supported Juneteenth holiday

Juneteenth National Independence Day is now a federal holiday, under legislation President Joe Biden signed today. The bill commemorating the end of slavery in Texas on June 19, 1865 moved through Congress at unusual speed so it could take effect in time for this weekend. Most federal government workers will have Friday the 18th off, since the new holiday falls on a Saturday.

The U.S. Senate approved the bill through unanimous consent on June 15. Iowa’s junior Senator Joni Ernst was one of the 60 co-sponsors (including eighteen Republicans) in the upper chamber. Senator Chuck Grassley didn’t co-sponsor the bill, but at least he didn’t object to its passage. He is one of only two currently serving senators who voted against establishing a holiday to honor the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1983. (The other is Richard Shelby of Alabama.)

U.S. House members approved the Juneteenth bill on June 16 by 415 votes to 14 (roll call). All four representatives from Iowa voted yes, which probably would not have been the case if Steve King had fended off Randy Feenstra’s primary challenge last year.

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Policing bill would worsen Iowa's justice system disparities

Most of the new crimes and enhanced penalties that would be established under a policing bill approved by the Iowa House would have a disparate impact on Black people, according to analysis from the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency.

Before passing Senate File 342, Iowa House members amended what had been a narrowly-focused bill on officer discipline to include several other so-called “Back the Blue” proposals: giving law enforcement more protection against lawsuits, increasing benefits for officers, and greatly increasing the criminal penalties for some protest-related actions.

For seven of the nine crimes addressed in the “Back the Blue” bill, now pending in the Iowa Senate, the LSA found the “conviction rate for African Americans exceeds the population proportion of the State, which would lead to a racial impact if trends remain constant.”

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Court order clears path for more diverse juries in Iowa

For decades, researchers have found that all-white juries are more likely to convict Black defendants than white defendants, and that Black people “are systematically more likely to be excluded from juries in many contexts.” In addition, studies indicate diverse juries “perform their fact-finding tasks more effectively,” and have been shown to “deliberate longer, consider more facts, make fewer incorrect facts, correct themselves more, and have the benefit of a broader pool of life experiences […].”

In a 2017 decision that gave defendants of color another way to challenge unrepresentative jury pools, the Iowa Supreme Court recognized, “Empirical evidence overwhelmingly shows that having just one person of color on an otherwise all-white jury can reduce disparate rates of convictions between black and white defendants.” Yet African Americans have continued to be under-represented in Iowa jury pools and on trial juries.

A recent Iowa Supreme Court order takes a step toward addressing that disparity in the state’s criminal justice system.

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What the voting rights order revealed about Kim Reynolds

“Quite simply, when someone serves their sentence and pays the price our justice system has set for their crimes, they should have their right to vote restored automatically, plain and simple,” Governor Kim Reynolds said on August 5, shortly before signing a critically important document.

Executive Order 7 automatically restores voting rights to most Iowans who have completed prison sentences or terms of probation or parole associated with felony convictions. The Iowa-Nebraska NAACP estimated that the order paves the way for more than 40,000 people to vote this year. Going forward, approximately 4,700 Iowans who complete felony sentences each year will regain the same rights.

Reynolds had publicly promised to sign such an order seven weeks ago, after Republican senators declined to advance the state constitutional amendment that was her preferred way of addressing the problem.

Both the substance of the measure and the way the governor announced it revealed aspects of her leadership style.

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