This morning, we filed a lawsuit on behalf of a coalition of public interest groups in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa that challenges the constitutionality of Iowa’s newest ag gag law.
In March, Gov. Kim Reynolds signed into law the “agricultural production facility trespass,” which like an earlier ag gag law that was struck down in Iowa, criminalizes investigations at agricultural facilities, including food and meat processing plants, livestock facilities, and puppy mills.
In January, a federal court struck down a different Iowa ag gag law, which the Iowa Legislature passed in 2012. This newer ag gag law was a direct response to the earlier law being deemed unconstitutional.
The new law creates a new crime—called “agricultural production facility trespass”—that makes it illegal for a person to gain access to an agricultural production facility through deception if the person intends to cause “economic harm or other injury” of the facility. Deception is defined broadly to include both lies and omissions, and there is no definition or limitation on what “other injury” includes.
But the First Amendment protects exposés, boycotts, and protests of agricultural facilities, even though those activities may injure a business’s profits and reputation.
The legal challenge we filed today is important to protecting free speech in Iowa. An especially grievous harm to our democracy occurs when the government uses the power of the criminal laws to target unpopular speech to protect those with power—which is exactly what this law is about. The Ag Gag 2.0 law aims to silence critics of worker rights abuses, animal cruelty, unsafe food safety practices, and environmental hazards in agricultural facilities. Legislators rushed to pass Ag Gag 2.0 shortly after the federal injunction of Ag Gag 1.0 came down.
The plaintiffs are the Animal Legal Defense Fund, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), the Center for Food Safety, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, and Bailing Out Benji. The plaintiffs are represented by the ACLU of Iowa, Public Justice, the Law Office of Matthew Strugar, Justin Marceau and Alan Chen of the University of Denver Sturm College of Law, and in-house counsel for the plaintiff organizations.
Federal courts in other states have struck down similar ag gag laws, saying they also wrongly suppress free speech.
Violations, such as trespassing, are already covered by Iowa law. Ag Gag 2.0 once again tries to give special protection to agriculture over all other industries in our state, and over the free speech rights of those who would voice opposition to them. It has a chilling effect on journalists, advocates, and others in exposing problematic worker conditions, health and safety violations, and animal cruelty inside agricultural facilities.
The full press release on the filing can be found here.