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A sharply divided Iowa Supreme Court on Friday stopped a lawsuit aimed at reducing the flow of fertilizer and hog farm waste into the state’s river and streams, finding that limiting pollution from farms was a political matter and not one for the courts.

The 4-3 decision handed a significant defeat to environmental groups hoping to get the chance to prove that Iowa should scrap it’s voluntary farm pollution policy, order new mandatory limits on nitrogen and phosphorous pollution and stop construction of new hog barns.

It is the latest court rejection of an attempt to force the nation’s leading corn and pork producing state to clean up farm pollutants from its major rivers that provide drinking water to hundreds of thousands of Iowans.

The lawsuit, which was brought by Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement and Food & Water Watch, contended that unregulated farm pollution is violating the rights of citizens to clean water in the Raccoon River for recreational and drinking water use.

It said a legal concept that precedes Iowa statehood — the public trust doctrine — should apply to this case and require the state to ensure that citizens have a useable Raccoon River untainted by excess pollution caused by farm runoff of fertilizer and animal manure.

A state judge ruled in 2019 that the environmental groups sufficiently demonstrated that they suffered injury because the river’s untreated water is too polluted to enjoy recreationally or aesthetically. The state appealed the ruling and asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit.

Four of the court’s conservative justices said the environmental groups didn’t show that the state’s actions had caused a concrete injury the courts could fix. They also said the public trust doctrine historically hasn’t been used to solve a problem as complex as the environmental issues raised, and that the issues at the heart of the case were political questions that would fall to the Legislature to settle.

“There is not enough here to demonstrate that a favorable outcome in this case is likely to redress the plaintiffs’ alleged reduced ability to kayak, swim, or enjoy views of the Raccoon River, or would save them money on drinking water. The plaintiffs’ claims must therefore be dismissed for lack of standing,” Justice Edward Mansfield wrote for the majority.

He said the Des Moines Water Works would have better standing to sue, but he pointed out that the utility already did so and lost a 2017 federal court case that was also dismissed.

The utility filed a brief with the state Supreme Court saying it was pursuing the development of alternate sources of water but that its long-range plans involve the implementation of new treatment technologies that would cost customers tens of millions of dollars.



British lawyer Karim Khan was sworn in Wednesday as the new chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Court, pledging to reach out to nations that are not members of the court in his quest to end impunity for atrocities and to try to hold trials in countries where crimes are committed.

Khan, a 51-year-old English lawyer, has years of experience in international courts as a prosecutor, investigator and defense attorney. He takes over from Fatou Bensouda of Gambia, whose nine-year term ended Tuesday.

“The priority for me, and I believe that’s the principle of the Rome Statute, is not to focus so much on where trials take place, but to ensure that the quest for accountability and inroads on impunity are made,” Khan said, referring to the treaty that founded the court, in his first speech after taking his oath of office.

“The Hague itself should be a city of last resort,” he said. “Wherever possible, we should be trying to have trials in the country or in the region.”

Khan said he wanted to work with countries that are not among the court’s 123 member states to achieve justice. World powers the United States, Russia and China are not members and do not recognize the court’s jurisdiction.

“My conviction is that we can find common ground in the quest and in the imperative to ensure we eradicate genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes,” Khan said.

Most recently, Khan led a United Nations team investigating atrocities in Iraq, telling the Security Council last month that he uncovered “clear and compelling evidence” that Islamic State extremists committed genocide against the Yazidi minority in 2014.

In the past, he has defended clients at international courts including former Liberian President Charles Taylor and Kenya’s Deputy President William Ruto. ICC prosecutors dropped charges against Ruto and President Uhuru Kenyatta of involvement in deadly post-election violence in their country.



With abortion and guns already on the agenda, the conservative-dominated Supreme Court is considering adding a third blockbuster issue — whether to ban consideration of race in college admissions.

The justices could say as soon as Monday whether they will hear an appeal claiming that Harvard discriminates against Asian American applicants, in a case that could have nationwide repercussions. The case would not be argued until the fall or winter.

“It would be a big deal because of the nature of college admissions across the country and because of the stakes of having this issue before the Supreme Court,” said Gregory Garre, who twice defended the University of Texas’ admissions program before the justices.

The presence of three appointees of former President Donald Trump could prompt the court to take up the case, even though it’s only been five years since its last decision in a case about affirmative action in higher education.

In that Texas case, the court reaffirmed in a 4-3 decision that colleges and universities may consider race in admissions decisions. But they must do so in a narrowly tailored way to promote diversity, the court said in a decision that rejected the discrimination claims of a white applicant. Schools also bear the burden of showing why their consideration of race is appropriate.

Two members of that four-justice majority are gone from the court. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died in September. Justice Anthony Kennedy retired in 2018.

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