Federal Appeals Court Rules Iowa’s “Ag Gag” Laws Constitutional, Clearing the Path for Enforcement

DES MOINES, Iowa — A federal appeals court has ruled that two of Iowa’s “ag gag” laws, which impose penalties on individuals who trespass on agricultural property with the intention of causing financial harm, are constitutional. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit announced its rulings on Monday, reversing a lower court decision in both cases. A third lawsuit is still pending.

The rulings suggest that these state laws may soon become enforceable. However, an attorney for one of the plaintiffs expressed confidence that opponents would prevail upon appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Iowa Legislature, which is Republican-majority, has made multiple attempts since 2012 to pass these laws. Supporters argue that they are necessary to protect farmers from individuals who inaccurately portray their farming practices through undercover recordings. On the other hand, animal welfare advocates argue that these laws restrict their ability to expose animal mistreatment.

Both lawsuits that the appeals court ruled on were brought by several organizations, including the Animal Legal Defense Fund and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. One of the rulings addressed a law that criminalizes the use of a camera while trespassing on agricultural property. The appeals court deemed this law sufficient and not overly broad.

The court stated, “The Act is tailored to target [the] harm [of trespassing] and redress that evil. Because the Act’s restrictions on the use of a camera only apply to situations when there has first been an unlawful trespass, the Act does not burden substantially more speech than is necessary to further the State’s legitimate interests.”

The other ruling addressed a law that makes it illegal to lie on an employment form to gain access to an agricultural facility. The appeals court concluded that this law is not a viewpoint-based restriction on speech but rather a permissible restriction on intentionally false speech that causes harm.

The attorney for the Animal Legal Defense Fund believes that the constitutionality of the trespass law will continue to be litigated.

Iowa Attorney General Brenna Bird praised the appeals court’s rulings, emphasizing that they are a “landmark victory” for farmers and property owners. Governor Kim Reynolds and Agriculture Secretary Mike Naig also issued statements in support of the rulings, commending the measures to protect the state’s agricultural community.

The rulings have been met with criticism from opponents of the laws, who argue that they curtail free speech and limit Iowans’ rights to tell the truth, protest, and protect their communities. However, it remains to be seen whether these legal challenges will be successful in altering the enforcement of Iowa’s “ag gag” laws.

In summary, a federal appeals court has upheld the constitutionality of two of Iowa’s “ag gag” laws. These laws impose penalties on individuals who trespass on agricultural property with the intent to cause financial harm. Supporters argue that the laws protect farmers from false portrayals, while animal welfare advocates claim that they hinder their work of exposing animal mistreatment. The rulings have been lauded by state officials but criticized by opponents who believe they curtail free speech. The legal battle over the trespass law is expected to continue.