DES MOINES — Gov. Terry Branstad stopped short of saying he would reopen the shuttered Iowa Juvenile Home, despite a judge’s order to do just that.
“Our office is reviewing the ruling and working with the Attorney General’s office to explore all options,” spokesman Jimmy Centers said Wednesday.
Polk County District Judge Scott Rosenberg ordered the state to reopen the Toledo home, saying the governor overstepped his authority when he ordered the facility shut last month.
“Our laws serve to protect the will of the majority and the rights of the minority,” Rosenberg wrote in his 17-page ruling. “No one person under our form of government, unless duly authorized by that form of government through our Constitution can exercise a power not delegated to it or in contravention of the government itself and the laws duly enacted.”
The Iowa Juvenile Home provided housing and schooling for children in the state’s legal system.
The state-run facility has been the subject of controversy since this summer when the advocacy group Disability Rights Iowa criticized the home’s practices of placing young girls in extended isolation.
The revelation led to investigations by other state agencies and a legislative oversight panel. A state task force recommended the home remain open, if economically feasible. Part of the recommendation was the home house only female delinquents instead of female delinquents and foster children as it had done in the past, if it were to remain open.
“We’re ecstatic,” said Dave Nagle, a former congressman and attorney who is working pro bono on behalf of the group “Save Our Home,” which has been critical of the home’s closure.
“We have contact with some of the children who were displaced, and we’re hoping they can return to the home soon,” he said.
Rosenberg’s ruling came as part of a lawsuit filed against the state by Danny Homan, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 61 and four state lawmakers.
“Iowa’s young girls are the real winners in this decision,” Homan said in a prepared statement. “For the sake of the safety of Iowa’s children, the governor should immediately comply with this court order and reopen the Iowa Juvenile Home as instructed by the District Court.”
One of the lawmakers is state Sen. Jack Hatch, D-Des Moines, who is seeking the Democratic Party’s nomination to run against Branstad this fall.
“The judge is the latest in a long line of Iowans who have tried to get Terry Branstad to follow the law. The ruling is another example of how this Governor operates above the law, without accountability or respect for the rule of law,” Hatch said in a statement released through his campaign. “As the judge wrote, the Branstad administration cannot unilaterally decide which laws to obey and which laws it will not.”
Centers defended the move, saying the governor thought shutting the facility was in the best interest of the children who were being served.
“Because the children weren’t receiving the education they deserve and their safety and treatment were being compromised, Gov. Branstad believed seeking alternative court-ordered placements in licensed and accredited facilities — or in their own homes — was in the best interest of the children,” he said.
House Minority Leader Mark Smith, D-Marshalltown, who also was one of the four elected plaintiffs, said closing the home was “a terrible mistake.”
The Democratic Party of Iowa praised the decision, saying the judge’s ruling was evidence the governor was “picking and choosing” what laws to follow.
“Throughout his career, Terry Branstad has tried to run this state like his personal kingdom, willfully ignoring laws and making decisions with no more input than talking with himself in a mirror,” Chairman Scott Brennan said. “Branstad has failed when it comes to looking out for Iowans, and we are ready to put an end to his self-proclaimed authority.”