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Animal Legal Defense Fund v. Reynolds

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  1. Newsgathering

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

Date Filed: Aug. 15, 2022

Background: In 2019, the Iowa state legislature passed the Agricultural Facility Trespass Act, which criminalizes the use of “deception” to gain access to an agricultural facility with “the intent to cause physical or economic harm or other injury to the agricultural production facility’s operations, agricultural animals, crop, owner, personnel, equipment, building, premises, business interest, or customer.” The statute is one of many so-called “ag-gag” laws passed by state legislatures around the country that, among other things, prohibit undercover investigations and protect the agriculture industry by discouraging whistleblowing.

Passage of Iowa’s statute followed a court battle over an earlier version of the law, passed in 2012, that criminalized making a false statement when applying for employment at an agricultural production facility with the intent to knowingly commit an “unauthorized act” once employed. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit partially struck down that earlier law as unconstitutional in 2021.

After Iowa lawmakers passed the amended ag-gag statute in 2019, a coalition of nonprofit organizations dedicated to consumer protection and animal welfare sued to prevent it from being enforced, arguing that it threatened to hinder undercover investigations into the practices of agricultural facilities in the state.

In March 2022, a federal judge ruled the law unconstitutional, prompting Iowa Gov. Kimberly Reynolds and other state officials to appeal to the Eighth Circuit.

Our Position: The Eighth Circuit should affirm the district court’s decision and hold Iowa’s ag-gag law unconstitutional.

  • Journalists have a long history of reporting on agricultural production facilities and their work has spurred public debate and led to important reforms.
  • The Agricultural Facility Trespass Act is a viewpoint-based restriction on speech that will undermine journalists’ reporting on agricultural production facilities.

Quote: “[U]nder the Act, agricultural facility owners and others remain free to speak positively about those facilities, while critics, whistleblowers, and even journalists who go undercover to report on facilities will be deterred from — and potentially face criminal punishment for — providing truthful (but negative) information about those facilities to the press and public.”

Related: In 2019, the Reporters Committee and a coalition of 22 media organizations supported an effort to challenge the constitutionality of the 2012 ag-gag statute that was later partially struck down by the courts.