Update: Chief Justice Roberts denies states’ request to stay the EPA’s mercury rule

By: Rox Laird on March 3rd, 2016

Chief Justice John Roberts issued a brief order today denying a petition by 20 states, including Iowa, seeking an order blocking the Environmental Protection Agency from enforcing a challenged air pollution regulation. (See Wednesday’s post below for more background.) Chief Justice Roberts’s order does not affect the underlying issue in the case, which is currently before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

The U.S. Supreme Court could decide Friday whether to (indirectly) review the Iowa Supreme Court’s telemed abortion decision

By: Administrator on November 10th, 2015

By Ryan Koopmans

When the nine justices of the U.S. Supreme Court meet for conference this Friday, an Iowa Supreme Court case will be on their agenda (kind of).

In June, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that Iowa’s ban on telemed abortion violates both the U.S. and Iowa constitutions because it places “undue burden on a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy.”  The operative phrase of that quote–“undue burden” — comes from the U.S Supreme Court’s opinion in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, and it has become the definitive test of whether a law that restricts abortion is constitutional.

Lower courts are now disagreeing, however, on how the undue-burden test should be applied, and in the Iowa telemed abortion case (Planned Parenthood v. Iowa Board of Medicine) the Iowa Supreme Court took sides.

Adopting language from the Seventh Circuit, the Iowa Supreme Court, in an opinion by Justice Wiggins, wrote that the application of the undue-burden test differs depending upon the state’s reason for regulating abortion. If the law’s purpose is to “advance fetal life,” then the law is constitutional unless “its purpose or effect is to place a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion before the fetus attains viability.”  If, however, the law’s purpose is  to “further the health or interest of a woman seeking to terminate her pregnancy,” then the court must scrutinize the state’s medical justifications and weigh them against the burden that the law places on a woman’s ability to terminate her pregnancy.  The more “feebler” the medical justifications, Justice Wiggins wrote (again, borrowing from the Seventh Circuit), the more likely that any burden (even a slight one) will be an undue one.

The Iowa Board of Medicine’s stated purpose in banning telemed abortion was to protect the mother’s health, but the Iowa Supreme Court thought that the health benefits were “very limited.”  In weighing those “very limited” benefits against the burden on the mother (having to travel a greater distance to receive in-person treatment), the justices came to the conclusion that the law violated both the Iowa and U.S. constitutions (though the plaintiffs’ case was based solely on a violation of the state constitution).

But just 10 days earlier, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit came to the opposite conclusion.

In 2013, Texas enacted a statute that, one, requires abortion clinics to comply with standards for ambulatory surgical centers, and, two, prohibits a physician from performing an abortion unless that physician has admitting privileges at a hospital within thirty miles of the location where the abortion will be performed.  The justification for the law — like the justification for Iowa’s telemed regulation — was to protect the health of the mother.  And the burden that the law placed on women choosing to have an abortion — like the burden placed on Iowa women under the telemed abortion regulation — was having to travel greater distances to receive an abortion at a clinic that could meet the new, stricter standards.

Unlike the Iowa Supreme Court, though, the Fifth Circuit concluded that it did not need to closely scrutinize and weigh the state’s medical justifications.  As long as the justifications are rational, the Fifth Circuit concluded, then the focal point of the analysis is on whether the burden (traveling greater distances to receive an abortion) is an undue one.

The Fifth Circuit said that it is not — at least not in most cases.  The court did rule that one clinic could stay open, despite not meeting the admitting privileges and ambulatory surgical center standards, because the next closest clinic that performed abortions (and met the statute) is 235 miles away.  That, the court concluded, is too far.  But lesser distances (specifically, those under 150 miles) do not amount to an undue burden, the court ruled.

The plaintiffs in that case are now asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review the Fifth Circuit’s decision.  They argue that it’s wrong, and (importantly for getting the Supreme Court’s attention) they argue that the Fifth Circuit’s version of the undue-burden test is at odds with the version that other courts, including the Iowa Supreme Court, apply.  The Fifth Circuit’s standard, plaintiffs argue, “stands in direct conflict with decisions of the Seventh and Ninth Circuits and the Iowa Supreme Court, which hold that courts must examine the extent to which laws regulating abortion actually further a valid state interest in assessing whether the burdens they impose on abortion access are undue.”

In response, Texas says that the Fifth Circuit got it right, and that the split among the lower courts isn’t as deep as the plaintiffs advertise.  According to Texas, the Seventh and Ninth Circuit opinions that the plaintiffs point to are in conflict with precedent in those Circuits, and the Iowa Supreme Court decision is an “outlier.”  As a result, Texas says that this case is not Supreme Court material.

So the justices must now decide whether this is indeed an issue worthy of their review.  The Texas case was listed on the Supreme Court’s conference calendar for last Friday (November 6), but the Court relisted it for this week’s conference.  Thus, we might know as early as this Friday whether the justices will take up this issue, and thus whether it will (indirectly) review the Iowa Supreme Court’s decision in Planned Parenthood v. Iowa Board of Medicine. 


U.S. Supreme Court denies review in Iowa drunk driving case

By: Administrator on April 28th, 2014

By Ryan Koopmans

The Iowa Supreme Court won’t have to reconsider its ruling in State v. Kooima after all.

Kooima held by a 4-3 vote that police may not stop a vehicle based solely on an anonymous tip that the driver is drunk. That conclusion seemed very much in doubt after the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling last week in Navarette v. California, which held that officers lawfully stopped a vehicle based on an anonymous tipster’s claim that the car had run her off the road. As we noted then, the Iowa Supreme Court decided Kooima under the Federal Constitution, so Navarette’s contrary ruling on similar facts suggested a remand was on the horizon.

Not so. This morning, the U.S. Supreme Court denied the State’s request to review Kooima. The Court didn’t say why (which is the norm), but it probably came down to a distinction between the tips in each case. In Kooima, the tipster didn’t report any reckless or dangerous driving; he claimed that he was watching a group of guys leaving a bar and “[e]verybody in the damn vehicle” is drunk. In Navarette, on the other hand, the tipster reported she was run off the road by the suspect’s dangerous driving.

That’s about the only meaningful distinction between the two cases (see our comparison here), but details matter under the Fourth Amendment. And the cops will have to keep those details in mind the next time they get an anonymous tip about a possible drunk driver.

U.S. Supreme Court splits with the Iowa Supreme Court on anonymous tips of drunk driving

By: Administrator on April 22nd, 2014

By Ryan Koopmans

This morning, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Navarette v. California that officers lawfully stopped a vehicle based on an anonymous tipster’s claim that the car had run her off the road. The Court, in a 5-4 decision by Justice Thomas, concluded that the anonymous tip gave officers reasonable suspicion of drunk driving. Back in January, we wrote that the outcome in Navarette could require the Iowa Supreme Court to revisit its decision in State v. Kooima.  That seems almost certain now.


In Kooima, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled by a 4-3 vote that officers may not stop a vehicle based solely on an anonymous tip that the driver is drunk. The Court, per Justice Wiggins, held that such a stop violates the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution.  The State of Iowa then asked the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse that decision, and the Supreme Court has been holding the case pending the outcome in  Navarette.

Based on Justice Thomas’s decision today, it looks like the stop in Kooima may have been okay, at least as far as the Fourth Amendment is concerned.  Indeed, Justice Mansfield’s dissent parallels much of today’s decision in Navarette.  He would have upheld the stop because:

  • –The caller reported criminal activity based on “firsthand contemporaneous observations” (the caller saw the group drinking in a bar and get into the car);
  • –Officers corroborated several predictive statements in the call (they saw the vehicle arrive in town about ten minutes after the call from a bar eight miles away);
  • –“Calling 911 is no way to make a false report and get away with it” (calls are traceable and false reports are criminal); and
  • –The law requires reasonable suspicion, not certainty (maybe a group of guys leaving a bar at 11:21 p.m. didn’t drink much, but officers can stop the car to make sure).

In upholding the stop Navarette, the Supreme Court made similar observations:

  • –The caller “necessarily claimed eyewitness knowledge” (she reported being run off the road by a specific vehicle);
  • –Police confirmed the vehicle’s location shortly after the caller’s “contemporaneous report” (they spotted the vehicle 19 miles to the south 18 minutes after the call);
  • –A tipster would “think twice” before using 911 to make a false report (technology lets authorities trace the calls and false reports are punishable);
  • –Officers need not rule out all possible innocent explanations—say, an “unruly child”—before stopping a vehicle (waiting could have “disastrous consequences”).

After Navarette, Justice Mansfield’s dissent could soon become the majority opinion in Kooima. But there is a twist. The Iowa Supreme Court decided Kooima under the Federal Constitution. Navarette is the law on that. But if the four justices in the Kooima majority want the same result, and the defendant preserved the argument, they could decide the case the same way under the Iowa Constitution.

Supreme Court Takes Up Two Cases from the Eighth Circuit

By: Administrator on March 3rd, 2014

By Ryan Leemkuil

This morning, the United States Supreme Court agreed to review two cases from the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals.

In Holt v. Hobbs, the Court will consider the legality of the Arkansas Department of Corrections’ no-beard growing policy.  Gregory Holt (a/k/a Abdul Maalik Muhammad) challenged the ban, seeking permission to grow a half-inch beard consistent with his Muslim beliefs.  The state denied Holt’s request, citing security concerns (inmates might hide contraband in their beards or quickly change their appearance with a shave).  Last June, the Eighth Circuit upheld the policy as the least restrictive means of furthering prison security interests.  Holt, in a handwritten pro se petition, convinced the Supreme Court to take up his challenge to the beard-ban.

In the other case, Warger v. Shauers, the Court will consider whether juror testimony is admissible to show alleged juror dishonesty as the basis for a new trial.  Last year, the Eighth Circuit held the evidence was inadmissible under Federal Rule of Evidence 606, reasoning that “occasional inappropriate jury deliberations” are preferable to “relentless post-verdict scrutiny and second guessing.”  The panel did, however, acknowledge a circuit split on the issue, and the Supreme Court appears poised to resolve that conflict.


The Iowa Supreme Court May Have to Reconsider its Decision on Anonymous Tips and Drunk Driving

By: Administrator on January 24th, 2014

By Ryan Leemkuil

Last June, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled 4-3 in State v. Kooima that a police officer may not stop a vehicle based solely on an anonymous tip that the driver is drunk.  The Court, per Justice Wiggins, held that such a stop violates the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution.  The State asked the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse that decision, but as we predicted back in October, the Supreme Court has held the State’s petition pending a ruling on this issue in Navarette v. California.  On Tuesday, the Court heard oral arguments in Navarette, and the questioning suggests that Kooima could soon be on its way back to the Iowa Supreme Court.

In Navarette, two brothers were arrested on drug charges after officers stopped their vehicle based on an anonymous tip that they had run another vehicle off the road.  The Supreme Court took the case to resolve the issue decided in Kooima: whether the Fourth Amendment requires an officer who receives an anonymous tip of drunk or reckless driving to corroborate dangerous driving before making a stop.  During oral argument, the Navarettes’ attorney pressed the Supreme Court for a broad ruling: officers acting on anonymous tips must corroborate the alleged criminal conduct and identifying details before making a stop.

Several Justices seemed skeptical.  Suppose a tipster reports a driver is “throwing bombs out the window” of his car, does the officer have to wait until he actually sees a bomb tossed before stopping the vehicle?  What if a witness reports seeing a man grab a young girl and throw her in the trunk of his car and drive off?  Does the officer have to follow the car for hours trying to corroborate some wrongdoing? Taking things further, what if a tipster reports a terrorist is driving to the center of Los Angeles with an atomic bomb in his car?  Must the officer stand by trying to corroborate some misconduct?  Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Scalia peppered the Navarettes’ attorney with these questions, and they didn’t seem satisfied with the answers.

These hypotheticals were, of course, designed to explore some type of limiting principle.  Perhaps as the seriousness of the crime increases, less (or no) corroboration is required.  But the Navarettes’ lawyer pushed back, arguing that the “seriousness of the claim” should not affect the analysis.  This prompted Justice Kennedy to give the attorney an “A for consistency,” but not necessarily for “common sense.”

Despite the skepticism of several justices, it’s always tough to predict a ruling based on oral arguments.  We’ll have to wait for the decision in Navarette to know whether the Iowa Supreme Court will have to revisit its ruling in Kooima.

U.S. Supreme Court to Consider Fourth Amendment Issue with Iowa Implications

By: Administrator on October 2nd, 2013

By Ryan Koopmans

In June, a bare majority of the Iowa Supreme Court ruled in State v. Kooima that a police officer may not stop a vehicle based solely on an anonymous tip that the driver is drunk.  According to Justices Wiggins, Hecht, Appel, and Zager, that violates the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution.  That decision is consistent with a ruling from the Virginia Supreme Court, but it also conflicts with decisions from several other courts, including the Eighth Circuit (which includes Iowa).

Before the oral argument in Kooima, I suggested that the Supreme Court may take up this issue soon, and that the Iowa case might be the vehicle to do it.  I was half right.  Last week, Attorney General Tom Miller asked the Supreme Court to reverse the Iowa Supreme Court, but yesterday (likely before the justices even saw the Iowa petition), the Supreme Court granted cert. on this question from a California case: “Does the Fourth Amendment require an officer who receives an anonymous tip regarding a drunken or reckless driver to corroborate dangerous driving before stopping the vehicle?”

So the Supreme Court will hear the issue–just not through Kooima.  But the justices will likely hold the Kooima petition until they rule on the California case (Navarette v. California), and if they decide in California’s favor, then Kooima may be returning to the Iowa Supreme Court.

Supreme Court Denies Cert. in Trio of Iowa Cases

By: Administrator on October 1st, 2012

By Ryan Koopmans

This morning, the U.S. Supreme Court denied cert. in Rubashkin v. United States, City of Des Moines v. Kragnes, and Carlson v. Wiggins, three Iowa-based cases that have received local–and in the case of Rubashkin, national–attention.  For more information, see our previous posts on these cases:

U.S. Supreme Court to Consider Three Iowa Cases on September 24
Eighth Circuit Rejects Constitutional Challenge to Iowa’s Judicial-Selection Method
Sholom Rubashkin Files Petition for Certiorari with U.S. Supreme Court
City of Des Moines Asks Iowa Supreme Court to Reconsider Class-Action Ruling
Rubashkin Hires Former SG Paul Clement for Supreme Court Challenge

U.S. Supreme Court to Consider Three Iowa Cases on September 24

By: Administrator on September 13th, 2012

By Ryan Koopmans

When the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court meet for their conference on September 24, they’ll consider whether to add several high-profile cases to their docket; chief among them, the California “Prop 8” case and the challenge to the federal Defense of Marriage Act.  More specific to Iowa, however, the Court could decide whether Sholom Rubashkin will serve a 27-year sentence, whether Des Moines must pay $40 million at the expense of its property owners, and whether Iowa lawyers will continue to elect members of the judicial nominating commission.

Those are the general issues in Rubashkin v. United States, City of Des Moines v. Kragnes, and Carlson v. Wiggins, three Iowa-based cases that have received local–and in the case of Rubashkin, national–attention.   The losing party  in each case filed a petition for writ of certiorari with Supreme Court early this year, and the justices will decide whether to grant or deny the petitions during their private conference on the 24th.

Unless at least four justices vote to grant the petition, the lower court opinion stands.  And that’s the likely outcome here, as it is in most cases: the Supreme Court receives about 8,000 cert. petitions each year and grants somewhere between 60-90 of them.  But that said,  it’s not  completely outside the realm of possibility that the Court will hear one of these Iowa cases.

Supreme Court Follows the Eighth Circuit and Denies Social Security Benefits to Children Conceived After the Death of the Father

By: Administrator on May 22nd, 2012

[The following summary was written by Spencer Cady, a law clerk in Nyemaster Goode’s summer program.  Spencer attends Drake University Law School and serves as an articles editor of the Drake Law Review.]

On May 21, 2012, the Supreme Court issued the decision of Astrue v. Capato.  In an opinion authored by Justice Ginsburg, the Court resolved a circuit split and held that children conceived after their father’s death are not entitled to Social Security survivors’ benefits unless they are eligible to inherit from their father’s estate under state law.

The case arose when Karen Capato gave birth to twins who were conceived through in vitro fertilization after their father died of cancer.  Capato filed a claim for Social Security survivor’s benefits, which the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) denied.  A federal district court upheld that decision, but the Third Circuit reversed.  According to that court, biological children of a deceased insured are entitled to benefits regardless of how the state treats such children for purposes of intestacy law.

The U.S. Supreme Court disagreed. In reaching its decision, the Court gave deference to the SSA’s reading of the applicable statutes and held the intestacy laws of the state where the wage earner was domiciled determines who may receive benefits under the Social Security Act.  As the state where the father was domiciled did not permit a posthumously conceived child to take under the intestacy laws, the children were prohibited from receiving benefits under the Social Security Act.

The decision resolved a circuit split within the United States Court of Appeals.  The Supreme Court’s holding in Astrue v. Capato echoed the Eighth Circuit decision of Beeler v. Astrue from 2011.  In Beeler, Judge Colloton wrote on behalf of the court that posthumously conceived children do not qualify to receive benefits under the Social Security Act unless the child has inheritance rights under state law.

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On Brief is devoted to appellate litigation, with a focus on the Iowa Supreme Court, the Iowa Court of Appeals, and the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.