Bob VanderPlaats' God
By B. John Burns
September 17, 2012

Today, September 17, is Constitution Day.  It’s the 225th anniversary of the ratification of the United States Constitution.  The Iowa Constitution, by the way, is 155 years old this year.

Down that line, there were two interesting pieces in the Opinion section of the Des Moines Sunday Register yesterday addressing the latest Constitutional crisis facing Iowans. One was an essay written by Justice David Wiggins himself, the man whose head is on the chopping block in this year’s judicial retention elections.  He gives a us a little background about himself, tells us how much he likes doing his job, and asks us to let him keep it.

More intriguing is a diatribe from the man with the ax – self-proclaimed constitutional theorist Bob VanderPlaats.

Focusing today upon the issues of abortion and contraception rather than that of marriage equality, VanderPlaats asks (in so many words), “Who is the source of our rights?”  Is it government?  Or is it God?  By providing that Americans who work for employers operated by religious organizations have access to the same medical insurance benefits (specifically contraception) shared by the rest of us, Democrats have “trampled” upon the “religious liberty” of those whose God tells them that, for whatever reason, contraception is a sin.  

In other words, if YOUR insurance benefits cover YOUR contraception, it infringes upon MY religious liberty.  It’s kind of like saying that if YOU marry someone of the same sex, or perhaps of a different race, it devalues the sanctity of MY marriage.  Who would take a bullshit position like that?

Listen to this reasoning:

Since, in their view, rights don’t originate with God, even rights as sacred as religious liberty and life can be bent, twisted, or even discarded if they get in the way of a desired government program.  Who’s to say otherwise?  When the belief states there is no God, relativity becomes the norm and absolute tolerance is embraced.  The only exception to this absolute tolerance is the encouragement to bully those who believe in God and moral absolutes.

So Bob VanderPlaats is being BULLIED.  This is the guy who organized the lynch mob in 2010, and is trying to pull together another one, to ram his religious beliefs down the throats of the rest of us, and to deny equal protection to a substantially measurable minority of Iowans.

But maybe VanderPlaats is right.  Imagine how much simpler it would be if we could just turn to GOD for all the answers.  Now, Bob draws upon the First Amendment for his logic, but the First Amendment actually frowns on asking God to interpret the Constitution.  But forget the First Amendment.  Why NOT go to God for the “moral absolutes”?  If we don’t do that, VanderPlaats explains, “the end goal for those who choose to remove God is to redistribute the wealth they did not earn [i.e., those who could not extract a shitload of money from Rick Santorum for a political endorsement], on their terms, and with no moral compass.”

One problem is that pretty much every person who claims to converse with God apparently talks to a different God.  I was raised in the Catholic schools, and the God the nuns told me about was someone entirely different from Bob VanderPlaats’ bigoted God.  And right now there’s this God in dozens of countries over in the Middle East telling people to kill Americans.  And they’re listening.

So which God should be elected as our “moral compass”?  I’m pretty sure Bob VanderPlaats would agree we don’t want the God out to kill Americans.  And Bob VanderPlaats has made it clear that he doesn’t buy into the God who preaches love and tolerance, the one the nuns taught me about.

I hope I’m not alone on this one, but I really don’t want my state and federal constitutions interpreted by Bob VanderPlaats’ bigoted God.

So why don’t we just do what we’ve been doing for the last 225 years, and leave it to the Courts?  Like we did in Varnum v. Brien.  Yes, sometimes we won’t like the answers they come up with.

But it’s the American way.

By B John Burns
September 11, 2012

If you’re like me reading the Sunday paper, occasionally you’ll flip to the last inside page of the classified section, to the ad for The Animal Rescue League.  Four or five columns of dogs, cats and, sometimes, rabbits up for adoption.  Little critters on death row, begging you for a reprieve.  A decent, principled person doesn’t go out and buy an AKC breed.  He or she “rescues” a mutt from death row.

To be honest, I don’t pay too much attention to the cats or the rabbits.  I’m a dog man.

There’s plenty of dogs.  They’re all assigned names like Trusty or Dimples, and their photos are accompanied by brief descriptions/biographies.  Many are adorable little puppies.  Trusty may be a friendly eight-month-old terrier/beagle mix, with all his shots, eager for a new home.  Dimples is an adorable dachshund/bulldog, six months old and almost house-trained.  When you open the Register next Sunday, Trusty and Dimples will be gone, already living with their new families.

Well, then there’s Rosebud.

New Criminal Legislation for 2012
Its July and that means new criminal legislation. There is not much this year but here is a link to a chart that should help out. Thanks to Kathy Ingram for putting this together this year: Link to new legislation.
Nick Drees to Recieve Louise Noun Award
By B John Burns
April 18, 2012

I received a message yesterday American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa Legal Director Randall Wilson that the ACLU of Iowa plans to present the Louise Noun award posthumously to Federal Defender Nick Drees at its annual meeting in Iowa City on April 28, 2012.  As you all know, Nick served as an assistant state public defender out of Des Moines from 1991 to 1994, as an assistance federal defender from 1994 to 1999, and as federal defender from 1999 until he passed away last October.

In addition to being involved actively  in organizations such as Iowans Against the Death Penalty, Nick was a former president of the ACLU of Iowa.  According to Wilson, “Nick was a tremendous advocate for civil liberties and we want to get the word out that he is being recognized for his contributions.”

Everyone in the defender community is invited to attend the dinner.  The following links are available to make reservations for the dinner or, in the alternative, you can contact Ellen Simmons by email at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it



Last year, the Louise Noun award was presented to former Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Marsha Ternus and former Associate Justices Michael Streit and David Baker for their courageous ruling in Varnum v. Brien.  On May 7, 2012 the three justices will be in Boston to receive the JFK Profiles in Courage award at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, along with Robert Ford, U.S. Ambassador to Syria.

The Louise Noun award is named for Louise Rosenfield Noun, a feminist author, activist and art collector born in Des Moines in 1908.  Noun was president of the Iowa Civil Liberties Union from 1964 to 1972.
Welcome to the Court, Judge Bower
By B John Burns
April 9, 2012

Am I the only one who caught this?

Last Thursday, April 6, 2012, Judge Thomas Bower was officially sworn in on the Iowa Court of Appeals to replace Judge Rosemary Sackett, the longest-sitting judge in the history of the Court and the last remaining appellate judge in Iowa that I argued in front of in my nine-year state appellate career.

That’s a good thing.  Congratulations, Judge Bower.  Welcome to the Court.

The bad news is that, on the very next day, the Supreme Court reversed one of  Judge Bowers’ district court rulings in State v. Polk.  Ouch.

Anthony Devon Polk appealed the admission at his bench trial of a confession he gave to law enforcement after a great deal of “persuasion.” He was already in jail when he was brought down and questioned about the shooting incident for which he was ultimately convicted.  He attempted several times to end questioning and walk away, but law enforcement repeatedly re-initiated questioning..  Mr. Polk’s competence to waive Miranda was subject to serious question.  He has a very low I.Q. and had been found to be incompetent to stand trial on at least one previous occasion.

But the winning argument, for Assistant Appellate Defender David Adams, by the way, was promissory leniency.  During the course of questioning, Mr. Polk was told several times by law enforcement that he would not see his children for a long time if he did not cooperate.  This strategy did the trick for law enforcement, and was found by Justice Waterman, writing for a unanimous court, to constitute improper promissory leniency.  

That’s got to sting a little – maybe put a little damper on the celebration.
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