The Des Moines Register sued the Senate seeking Senate phone records as part of this newspaper’s investigation into a scandal involving a collapsed investment fund marketed to Iowa cities that had employed a legislator as a salesman. The Supreme Court ruled that it could not force the Senate to comply with the Legislature’s own records law because the Iowa Constitution gave the Senate the authority to determine its own rules.
Three justices who dissented in that case agreed that the Legislature can set its own rules without interference from the courts, but they argued that lawmakers did not explicitly make any exceptions for the General Assembly’s records anywhere in the open-records law when they passed it. Thus, they said, like any other law of general application, the records law should apply to the Legislature.
Alas, they were outnumbered in this case.
Nothing the Supreme Court said in that 1996 decision precluded the Senate from abiding by the open-records law, however. The same is true for the Senate records that were sought by Carroll, and the Senate made the wrong decision in both instances