Staff Columnist

Stacking the deck in the Iowa Constitution

The courtroom for the Iowa Supreme Court at the Iowa Judicial Building in Des Moines on Wednesday, January 15, 2014. (St
The courtroom for the Iowa Supreme Court at the Iowa Judicial Building in Des Moines on Wednesday, January 15, 2014. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette-KCRG TV9)

When Republicans’ legal arguments don’t prevail in Iowa courts, they don’t reconsider their misguided legislative proposals. They seek instead to stack the constitutional deck. They bend institutions to their will, by any means necessary.

Take the latest constitutional amendment proposed by Republicans who run the Legislature. It states “The Constitution of the State of Iowa does not secure or protect a right to abortion or require the funding of abortion.” Gov. Kim Reynolds gave it a shout-out during her Condition of the State address.

We need this, apparently, because in 2018 the Iowa Supreme Court struck down a GOP-backed mandatory three-day waiting period for women seeking an abortion. A 5-2 ruling found that women in Iowa have a fundamental right to make this medical decision for themselves, and any state effort to get involved must clear strict judicial scrutiny by serving a compelling governmental interest.

Not even the U.S. Supreme Court goes that far, critics cried.

So now the losers want a constitutional mandate guaranteeing their losing arguments will win in the future. No more will their plans for smashing women’s autonomy and rights face strict scrutiny.

Contrast that with the constitutional amendment Republicans advanced last year, one guaranteeing that any legislation restricting gun rights must face a strict scrutiny test in the courts. Not even the U.S. Supreme Court goes that far.

So when the dust settles, Republicans want a state Constitution that provides far more protection for the rights of gun owners to stockpile firearms without restriction than for women to make medical decisions about their own bodies without legislative intervention. It’s a wonder how suburban women have soured on the GOP brand.

The one saving grace is our process requires passage by two General Assemblies and a statewide vote.

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But deck stacking has been the Republican strategy since the Iowa Supreme Court’s Varnum ruling legalizing same-sex marriages in 2009.

After losing badly in a unanimous decision, conservatives demanded a constitutional amendment outlawing marriage equality. They didn’t get it. So they went after the justices, and pushed three from the bench in the 2010 election.

When that strategy no longer worked, some Republicans filed a lawsuit to overturn Iowa’s judicial selection system. That failed. Impeach the justices! Nope. Require a five-justice majority! Nah.

So last year Senate Republicans pushed for legislation that would change the judicial selection process to give Republicans more power, while meddling in how the Supreme Court chooses its chief justice. A watered down but still damaging version passed.

You’d hardly think deck stacking is necessary now that the Iowa Supreme Court is dominated by justices appointed by former Gov. Terry Branstad or Reynolds. The court has shifted decidedly to the right. All three branches have the GOP stamp of approval.

But that’s not enough. Iowans might lose their minds and elect Democrats. Justice, equal protection and equality just might come back into fashion. So GOP gains today must be enshrined in perpetuity. Future Iowans must be ruled by losing arguments. Let them know it was all about freedom.

(319) 398-8262; todd.dorman@thegazette.com

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