Iowa Supreme Court Wraps Up Term with Several Notable Decisions, National Headlines

July 10, 2021

The Iowa Supreme Court wrapped up its 2020-2021 term last week – and as is typical for this Court – saved its highest profile cases for last. The Court issued several notable decisions during the month of June, many receiving national attention. Here is a recap with links to news stories for each case:

Supreme Court Sets Aside Evidence; Takes Away Hard Fought Jury Verdict
Before the court for the third time, this case pitted former Workers’ Compensation Commissioner Christopher Godfrey against former Governor Terry Branstad in a precedent-setting legal battle over employment discrimination. The Supreme Court reversed Godfrey’s $1.5 million jury verdict, citing a lack of evidence that Branstad knew Chris Godfrey was gay when he tried to force him out of office. The citizen jury, of course, had unanimously decided there was enough evidence. While this decision is a monumental disappointment to Godfrey and his legal team, it does not take away from the critically important new pathways to justice that these lawyers created by bringing this case. Because of Godfrey, Iowans can now seek monetary damages from the state when their Constitutional rights are violated. Times-Republican

High Court Sinks Racoon River Lawsuit
The Raccoon River’s listing as one of the 10 most endangered waterways in the country underscores a lawsuit brought by two environmental groups against various state agencies responsible for protecting water quality in the state. The high court turned back the lawsuit, ruling that it was an issue better dealt with by lawmakers. Iowa Public Radio The 4-3 decision is a win for large scale farming operations, but a disappointment to Iowans who are concerned about pollution levels in our rivers and lakes. If you enjoy reading Supreme Court opinions (we realize it’s not for everyone), this is not one to skip. In it, the Justices writing for the majority and the minority grapple with the scope of their power as a Court.

Planned Parenthood Barred from Teaching Sex Ed
After state lawmakers barred Planned Parenthood from receiving federal grants to teach sex education in 2019, the group sued the state in district court and won … until last week when the Iowa Supreme Court reinstated the ban. Planned Parenthood taught the standard lesson plans, intended to reduce unwanted pregnancies, for several years. Capital Dispatch

“Ban the Box” Ordinance Upheld in Waterloo
In another case that drew national attention, the Supreme Court upheld part of a Waterloo ordinance that prohibits employers from asking about criminal histories on job applications. “Ban the box” proponents believe that such laws help people with criminal records find a job and successfully reenter society. The Courier

Police Need a Warrant to Search Trash
Before this June, police in Iowa could rifle through someone’s trash looking for evidence of a crime without a warrant as long as it was on the curb or alley and not on private property. No longer, said the Supreme Court in their June ruling, citing citizen expectations of privacy until garbage bags are picked up by a “licensed collector.” Quad-City Times

Team Justice Not Politics