On February 19, the Iowa Supreme Court amended the state rules of civil and criminal procedure so that prospective jurors may not be removed because of a prior felony conviction.[1] The decision follows an executive order signed by Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds on August 5, 2020, that restored certain of the “rights of citizenship” to felons after they have served their sentences.[2]  The governor asserted this power under Article IV, section 16 of the Iowa constitution, which gives the governor the power to grant reprieves, commutations, and pardons, and the power to suspend fines and forfeitures.[3]

The governor’s order uses broad language that is fairly read to restore all citizenship rights lost because of a felony conviction except the right to possess a firearm, which the order explicitly exempts.[4]

By restoring all rights of citizenship—except the right to possess a firearm—to felons, the order caused  the Iowa Supreme Court to reevaluate two rules of procedure. Civil Rule 1.915(6)(a) and Criminal Rule 2.18(5)(a) permit for-cause challenges to prospective jurors on the grounds that they have a prior felony conviction “unless it can be established through the juror's testimony or otherwise that the juror's rights of citizenship have been restored.”[5] 

Given the governor’s order, the Iowa Supreme Court concluded that those rules should be amended so that they do not apply to anyone covered by the order.[6] 

For felons in Iowa, the governor’s order and the state Supreme Court’s decision means that upon completion of their terms of imprisonment, parole, probation, or supervised release, they may vote, hold office, serve on a jury, and otherwise enjoy all the rights of citizens except the right to possess a firearm.

The governor’s order restores felons’ citizenship rights even if a felon has not paid any of the monetary obligations arising from his conviction, including restitution to his victims. 

 


[1] In the Matter of Adopting Felony Conviction Challenge for Cause Amendments to Chapter 1 of Civil Procedure and Chapter 2 Rules of Criminal Procedure, Order of Feb. 19, 2021 (Iowa) (herein after “In the Matter”).

[2] Iowa Exec. Order No. 7 (Aug. 5, 2020).

[3] Id. (citing Iowa Const. Art. IV, § 16).

[4] See id. at § IX (“I will restore the rights of citizenship, including that of voting and qualification to hold office . . . .”) (emphasis added).

[5] Iowa R. Civ. P. 1.915(6)(a); Iowa R. Crim. P. 2.18(5)(A).

[6] In the Matter, at *1.

 

Note from the Editor: The Federalist Society takes no positions on particular legal and public policy matters. Any expressions of opinion are those of the author. To join the debate, please email us at info@fedsoc.org.

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