Iowa’s ‘ag-gag’ law declared unconstitutional

DES MOINES, IOWA — A decision made by a federal court rejected Iowa’s latest version of an “ag-gag” law, Section 727.8A of the Iowa Code, which sought protection from undercover investigations.

Chief Judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Iowa Stephanie M. Rose said the law violates the First Amendment.

“It is true that the law does not prohibit the editing, publication, or distribution of recordings or photographs on unauthorized property,” Rose wrote in reference to Iowa law. “But it limits the capture of such recordings or photographs, making the remaining steps in the protected video production process impossible. The act of recording is a necessary predicate to produce this protected speech and is protected by the First Amendment.

The law considers any intentional trespassing or surveillance an aggravated misdemeanor, which would carry a heavier penalty than the current consequences.

“The United States Constitution does not permit such a distinction of the exercise of a constitutional right,” Rose said. “The decision to single out this conduct is clearly illustrated by defendants’ description of the law as ‘increasing the penalty for conduct already prohibited by law.’

“That’s the problem with the law – it reinforces a criminal sanction based on the exercise of speech (or a predicate element of speech). The law does not limit its scope to specific cases of the use of a camera, like a voyeur situation. On the contrary, the law only punishes an intruder exercising a constitutional right.

The Iowa Legislature passed the first “ag-gag” law in 2012, and in 2017 a coalition of animal welfare advocates, food safety groups and free speech supporters filed a lawsuit. legal action to challenge its constitutionality. In 2019, the court ruled against the law, ruling that the defendants had no evidence that the restrictions imposed by Iowa’s ban on undercover investigations are in fact intended to protect private property and biosecurity. .

“Farmers never intended to infringe on the constitutional rights of others, but we also relied on the courts to help protect our rights to operate lawfully and care for our animals” , the Iowa Pork Producers Association told the Times.

In March 2022, the courts also rejected a second law.