The New Rules
B John Burns, III
The New Rules
For twenty-two years, veteran criminal defense attorney B. John Burns has been the author of a treatise on Iowa criminal procedure. Each year, a new edition is published detailing new developments in the law. For several years, it has been anticipated that the Iowa Supreme Court was in the process of rewriting the 45-year-old Iowa Rules of Criminal Procedure. John was aware that this, when it happened, would result in a plethora of revisions to his treatise. Just as he was preparing his final revisions for the 2022 volume, with a two-week deadline, word came down in February that the new rules had been approved and would go into effect in five months. John worked night and day for those two weeks, adapting his manual to the changes in the law.
Then, on the morning of the day he was to submit his revisions, he logged onto the Iowa Supreme Court website to receive the jolting news that the new rules of criminal procedure were, for the time being, being unadopted. That day he hurriedly worked to remove the hundreds of revisions he was about to submit to his publisher.
What brought this about?
After hours of frantic phone calls, John pieced together the information that members of the Iowa Legislature, that normally leaves it to the Supreme Court to make its own rules, had been contacted by several rural prosecutors and now objected to some of the changes that would tend to level the playing field, making the system less oppressive for individuals charged with crimes and for their attorneys.
By October the Supreme Court, through its blue-ribbon task force, had conducted a renewed review process and made a number of changes to the proposed rules to accommodate the legislators' objects, and release a revised set of proposed rules. John carefully incorporated the substance of the October rules into the revisions for his 2023 manual, that he submitted in late November.
Then, in February, as he prepared his final revisions for the volume to be released in April, lightning struck for the second time. In the final weeks of the 2023 Legislative Session, bills were introduced in both the Iowa House and Senate that would alter at least some of the new rules. John was once again in limbo, where he remained until July. The final revisions to the manual that was expected to be published in April were submitted in July. The manual would go out in August.
The New Rules recounts this nightmarish ordeal, but delves into much broader concerns of which the fiasco with the new rules is merely a symptom.
Iowa now has a Republican Governor, a vastly Republican House of Representatives and a vastly Republican Iowa Senate. Its entire Congressional delegation in Washington are Republicans. All seven of Iowa's Supreme Court justices have been appointed by Republican governors -- five of them by the current governor.
Nevertheless, the Iowa Court continues to cling to a proud history of independence, remaining at the forefront in protecting the rights of the state's citizens in areas including same-sex marriage, Fourth Amendment protections, school desegregation and even slavery.
Recent measures by the governor and the Legislature to take control of the Court and to dilute the check provided by the Judicial Branch on the otherwise unfettered implementation of contemporary Republican ideology are frightening.
The New Rules is John Burns' memoir of a 35-year legal career drawing to a close as ominous political clouds swirl above.
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