SUNDAY TALK: Guth on Campus Free Speech and Judicial Selection

The ninth week of the 2019 legislative session saw some significant bills pass the Iowa Senate. One of these was SF 274 which protects free speech on our college campuses in Iowa. In the past few years there have been court cases brought against one of our Regent’s universities for treating belief-based student organizations in adverse ways. SF 274 allows faith-based organizations the same privileges as any other organization and prevents administrators from restricting speakers to those that agree with the administration’s views. It will also protect free speech on campus, not relegate it to a small “free speech zone.”

A bill important to rural Iowa is SF 536. Currently, Iowa law restricts the operation of tele-pharmacies to an area more than 10 miles away from an existing brick and mortar pharmacy. The passage of this bill will eliminate that restriction and improve access in rural Iowa, especially when a person is released from the hospital in the middle of the night.

Agriculture is the driving force of Iowa’s economy. It plays a significant role in feeding the world, as well as providing fuel and a host of other items. When Agricultural production is interrupted by disease outbreaks, serious consequences result. Four years ago, the avian flu knocked the poultry industry off the rails. 30 million turkeys were lost, resulting in the loss of 8,444 jobs and $1.2 billion in economic losses.

That outbreak highlighted the need for strict biosecurity to be maintained. Republicans supported that biosecurity by passing SF 519 which adds criminal penalties for trespassing on an agricultural production facility. This bill punishes someone who trespasses on a facility not open to the public with the intent to cause physical or economic harm to the facility. It also provides for conspiracy charges against those who cause harm to our agricultural production facilities or animals. This is needed to protect our producers and their livestock from tampering and the potential spread of disease.

An issue I’ve heard about for the last two weeks is reforming the Iowa judicial system. While this has been talked of within the legislature for years, the recent decisions of the Iowa Supreme Court have caused this issue to come to the forefront. The justices themselves have written that they are no longer bound by the beliefs of the Founders who wrote the Constitution, and that our Constitution should change and evolve to fit today’s society.

This alarms me a great deal. Our constitution can be amended through a slow process—being passed by the legislature in two different general assemblies and then coming up for a vote by the citizens of Iowa. It should not be changed by the opinion of a few Supreme Court justices.

Currently, the justices are selected by the governor from a pool of candidates presented to her by a judicial nominating commission. It is made up of 16 individuals, half chosen by the governor and confirmed by the Senate, and half by members of the Iowa Bar. There is much concern about having a non-elected group having so much power in the selection process.

SF237 would leave eight members to be selected by the governor while the remaining eight are appointed by legislative leaders: two by the Senate Majority Leader, two by the Senate Minority Leader, two by the Speaker of the House and two by the House Minority Leader. This bill does not included Senate confirmation since this method frequently falls victim to party politics. This method assures that the minority party always has some commissioners on the selection commission. I think this is a great way to make sure the selection process is fair across the political spectrum.

Finally, SJR8 passed the Senate as the first step in putting the right to keep and bear arms into the Constitution. Only 6 states lack a constitutional provision to protect those rights. The language of this resolution mirrors the U.S. Second Amendment, but adds that the Iowa Supreme Court must use the strictest of scrutiny (evaluation) on any legal restrictions on the rights of Iowans to keep and bear arms. I believe this puts the Second Amendment rights of Iowans back on par with what the Founders of our country intended. This should put a check on the court’s encroachment of these rights in modern times.

At the close of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, Benjamin Franklin was asked, “Well doctor, what have we got—a republic or a monarchy?” To which he replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.” Our work this week reminds me of this conversation. Keeping our republic requires effort and diligence. Thank you for the opportunity to serve you!

The last forum scheduled this year is March 16 at 10AM at the Algona Library. After a long and tough winter, I hope my weekends in April will find me preparing to get in the fields