The Iowa Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday on a case that could impact the ability of thousands of potential candidates for public office. The case centers on a challenge from Democrat Ned Chiodo who says fellow Democrat Tony Bisignano should ineligible to run in the primary for a state senate seat in Des Moines after his conviction for second-offense drunk driving.
A review panel led by Attorney General Tom Miller voted 3-0 on March 21st to allow Bisignano on the ballot. The Supreme Court arguments centered on whether a second OWI rises to the level of what’s called an “infamous crime.”
Chido’s attorney, Gary Dickey, argued the definition is based on the penalty. “So, when you ask and ordinary person ‘what separates an infamous from a non-infamous’ I think it would be understandable for a person to say those most severe or those offenses that are subject to imprisonment, as opposed to some other type of punishment,” Dickey says. “That’s entirely reasonable rather than looking at the actual offense conduct of a specific crime.”
Dickey says while the right to vote is important, society has determined that right can be taken away in certain cases. “It’s entirely reasonable to take a look at it from the social contract perspective and to conclude that our framers intended individuals who couldn’t conform their behavior for crimes for which punishment are severe, are not entitle to the right to vote or hold public office,” Dickey says.
Joseph Glazebrook represents Bisignano, and says the interpretations of crimes and their severity have changed. “Part of the problem here in focusing on punishment is that he is asking you to apply a test to these words without considering what they meant in 1916 or 1957 when they were written and when they were adopted,” Glasebrook says.
Justice Wiggins asked Glazebrook about interpretation of crimes. “Why wouldn’t theft in the third-degree be infamous, and theft in the fourth degree is under the way you want us to construe it? Tell me what the difference is if you steal a thousand dollars or a thousand one dollars?,” Wiggins asked. “If you are just looking at the type of the crime as defined by the legislature, it’s different,” Glazebrook replied. “If you are looking at the measure of infamy or moral turpitude — I guess if you put it a on a scale and you take more, you steal more, it’s different as well.”
The Iowa Supreme Court agreed to hear the case right away, as election officials say they will begin putting the ballots together for the primary next week.