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Animal Legal Defense Fund v. Reynolds

Post categories

  1. Newsgathering

Court: U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

Date Filed: April 19, 2023

Background: In 2021, Iowa enacted a law that imposes criminal liability on any person “knowingly plac[ing] or us[ing] a camera or electronic surveillance device that transmits or records images or data while the device is on the trespassed property.”

The so-called “ag-gag” law is the Iowa Legislature’s third attempt to criminalize investigations into conditions at agricultural facilities. The latest measure is extremely broad in reach, criminalizing investigations on railway property as well. Penalties for violating the law are especially severe, with first offenses punishable by up to two years in jail and a fine of up to nearly $9,000.

Animal-rights groups challenged the law’s constitutionality, arguing that it violates their First Amendment rights to take photos and make audio and visual recordings at privately owned agricultural facilities. In response, the government argued that the law does not implicate First Amendment concerns, as its purpose is to regulate conduct, not speech.

The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the animal-rights groups, finding that the law enhances criminal penalties based on the exercise of constitutionally protected speech and that the government did not provide sufficient justification for the burden on that speech.

The government appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.

Our Position: The Eighth Circuit should affirm the district court’s order finding that the law is unconstitutional and granting summary judgment to the advocacy groups.

  • The law infringes upon constitutionally protected newsgathering rights.
  • The law unconstitutionally infringes the right to take photos and make audio and visual recordings.
  • The law chills protected speech on matters of public concern.
  • Reporters rely on the receipt of information and documentation, including photos and audiovisual recordings, from sources to inform the public about agricultural facilities.
  • The plaintiffs have standing to challenge the law.

Quote: “By criminalizing the taking of photographs and making of recordings, the Act chills the very journalism that has previously spurred positive changes in the agricultural industry, including legislation to ensure safer workplaces and a safer food supply.”

Related: The Reporters Committee, along with several media organizations, previously filed friend-of-the-court briefs in the Eighth Circuit in support of the animal-rights groups’ challenges to both prior ag-gag laws.

Update: On Jan. 8, 2024, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit upheld the constitutionality of Iowa’s ag-gag law and reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to the advocacy groups. “Ultimately,” the panel’s opinion states, “Plaintiffs’ facial challenge fails because the Act has a plainly legitimate sweep and it is narrowly tailored to achieve the State’s significant government interests.”

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