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University of Iowa News Release


April 3, 2009

Work of Iowa law student cited in Iowa Supreme Court's Varnum decision

The Iowa Supreme Court cited a University of Iowa law student's work in its historic Varnum v. Brien decision today.

In a footnote, the Court noted that many scholars and commentators urged the justices to apply the so-called "rational basis with bite" analysis in the case. The Court defined the rational basis test as one that measures a law's constitutionality based only on whether the legislature had a plausible policy justification in passing the law at issue, and if there was a rational relationship between the facts and the policy.

Rational basis with bite goes one step further by recognizing that legislatures often act in discriminatory ways against certain groups. For instance, courts have used rational basis "with bite" to strike down laws that discriminated against illegitimate children, the mentally or physically handicapped, and children of immigrants.

Among those scholars it cited as urging such a test was Steven Wieland, a third-year law student in the University of Iowa College of Law. Wieland urged the test in his law review note, "Gambling, Greyhounds and Gay Marriage: How the Iowa Supreme Court Can Use the Rational-Basis Test to Address Varnum v. Brien."

The note was published in Vol. 94, issue 1 of the Iowa Law Review, published last fall.

In his note, Wieland does not argue in favor of or against the same-sex-marriage ban itself, but instead, suggests a specific method for the Iowa Supreme Court to invalidate the ban should the court choose to go that route.

Wieland's suggested method would have allowed the Court to uphold a district court judge's decision to order the state to start processing marriage certificates for same-sex couples, invalidate the state ban on same-sex marriage, and, at the same time, minimize any public backlash that could hinder the gay-rights movement.

Wieland's proposed method would not require the court to grant "full-blown marriage rights to same-sex couples," but instead, would have allowed the state legislature to make decisions about the future of gay marriage in Iowa. Wieland described this method as "a wise tactical move in handling such a volatile issue," which would "leav[e] open future legislative and judicial avenues for addressing gay marriage."

In the end, the Court opted that a rational-basis test did not go far enough and that the constitutional guarantee of equal protection demanded the justices give greater scrutiny to the law prohibiting gay marriage because it involved the legal classification of people.

Wieland said he is not offended.

"I am extremely excited about the court's ruling," he said. "I cautioned the Court against moving too quickly, but judging by the fact that the justices acted unanimously today, I see that Iowa is ready to lead the nation forward on human rights."

The note is available online free of charge at under the "student notes" tab.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Service, 300 Plaza Centre One, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500

MEDIA CONTACT: Tom Snee, 319-384-0010 (office), 319-541-8434 (cell),