Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Failure of General Applicability in Iowa Road Protection Ordinance

Further to Marc's recent post on the taming of Employment Division v. Smith, the Iowa Supreme Court yesterday issued an interesting and thorough opinion in a case involving a challenge by a member of the Old Order Mennonite Church against a county ordinance prohibiting the use of steel cleats on tractors. The opinion was written for a unanimous court by Justice Edward Mansfield, a very able lawyer who was recently appointed to the Iowa Supreme Court by Governor Terry Branstad. Here is a bit from Justice Mansfield's opinion:

Upon our review, we find the County's ordinance lacks sufficient general applicability to bring this case under Smith. Section 321.442(1) is not a problem; it exempts farm machinery tires with protuberances, but only so long as they “will not injure the highway.” Such an exception is consistent with the stated purpose of protecting the County's roads. One could argue that sections 321.442(2) and (3) do not defeat the general applicability of the ordinance either. Although they allow the use of tire chains, ice grips, or tire studs, the exemptions are limited in scope (“reasonable proportions,” “not more than one-sixteenth inch beyond the tread of the traction surface of the tire”), and except for buses and emergency vehicles, in timing (“when required for safety because of snow, ice, or other conditions,” “from November 1 of each year to April 1 of the following year”). One could construct an argument, therefore, that the ordinance really serves a mixed purpose: It protects the roads from damage except when necessary for safety reasons.

Yet we believe the effort ultimately fails. School buses are allowed to use ice grips and tire studs year round. It is difficult to see how this secular exemption serves either of the foregoing dual purposes. Moreover, the County declined in September 2009 to regulate various other sources of road damage besides steel wheels. Rather, it chose to prohibit only a particular source of harm to the roads that had a religious origin. For example, although state law contains various limits on the overall weight of vehicles and also limits weight per inch of tire width, see Iowa Code §§ 321.440(2), .463, Mitchell County elected not to cover these matters in its ordinance.

The underinclusion of the ordinance undermines its general applicability. See Blackhawk, 381 F.3d at 209 (noting that a law “fails the general applicability requirement if it burdens a category of religiously motivated conduct but exempts or does not reach a substantial category of conduct that is not religiously motivated and that undermines the purposes of the law to at least the same degree as the covered conduct that is religiously motivated”(emphasis added)). We are convinced the underinclusion is “substantial, not inconsequential.” Lukumi, 508 U.S. at 543, 113 S.Ct. at 2232, 124 L.Ed.2d at 497.


Moreland, Michael | Permalink

TrackBack URL for this entry:


Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Failure of General Applicability in Iowa Road Protection Ordinance :


                                                        Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.