Federal Judge Strikes Iowa 'Ag-Gag" Law

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By William Vogeler, Esq. on January 10, 2019 2:44 PM

A federal judge ruled that Iowa's "ag-gag law," prohibiting surreptitious investigation of animal abuse, is unconstitutional.

Judge James Gritzner struck the law, which was enacted in 2012 to keep reporters and activists from going into animal facilities and reporting abuse. He said people have a First Amendment right to report what is going on inside such places as pig farms, chicken ranches, and slaughterhouses.

The decision in Animal Legal Defense Fund v. Reynolds is not the first to invalidate an ag-gag law. It's part of a trend of legal decisions across the country.

Iowa's Law

The Animal Legal Defense Fund and other groups challenged Iowa's law in 2017. The law criminalized "agricultural product facility fraud," which involves entering a facility "by false pretenses."

In court, government attorneys defended the statute by saying that it punishes conduct and that false statements are not protected by the First Amendment. The trial judge disagreed, and cited grizzly examples of animal abuse revealed in undercover investigations.

In one case, Gritzner said, undercover investigators reported workers "hurling small piglets onto a concrete floor." Another investigation documented mistreatment of hens and chicks, he said.

The judge said another report exposed workers "beating pigs with metal rods, sticking clothespins into pigs' eyes and faces, and a supervisor kicking a young pig in the face, abdomen, and genitals to make her move."

Idaho to North Carolina

In Idaho last year, the Animal Legal Defense Fund helped cut back an ag-gag law. In that case, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals said the law was "staggeringly overbroad."

Later, the Fourth Circuit revived a lawsuit against North Carolina's ag-gag law. The court recognized the chilling effect on the First Amendment, and said the plaintiffs showed a credible threat of injury to pursue their case.

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