Saying they are not overly restrictive of free speech, two of Iowa’s so-called “ag gag” laws — which create penalties for individuals who trespass on agricultural property with intent to create financial harm — are constitutional, a federal appeals court ruled this week.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit delivered similar rulings Monday in two cases, reversing a lower court decision in both. A district-court ruling on a third lawsuit remains pending, the Iowa Attorney General’s Office said.
The appeals court rulings mean those state laws could soon become enforceable. But an attorney for one of the plaintiffs expressed confidence opponents would prevail upon appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Republican-majority Iowa Legislature has made four different attempts since 2012 to pass such the laws, which supporters say are needed to protect farmers from individuals who unfairly portray their farming practices in undercover recordings. Animal welfare advocates say the laws restrict the ability of advocates to shine a light on the mistreatment of animals.
Both lawsuits that the appeals court ruled on were brought by Animal Legal Defense Fund, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, Bailing Out Benji and the Center for Food Safety.
One of the appeals court rulings addressed a law that would make it illegal to use a camera while trespassing on agricultural property. The appeals court said that law is sufficiently tailored and not overly broad.
“Without a doubt, trespassing is a legally cognizable injury because it harms the privacy and property interests of property owners and other lawfully-present persons. Trespassers exacerbate that harm when they use a camera while committing their crime,” the court wrote. “The Act is tailored to target that harm 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.”
David Muraskin, an attorney with FarmSTAND, one of the plaintiffs, said the appeals court’s decision splits with similar rulings in other district courts. Muraskin said that gives him confidence that the U.S. Supreme Court would ultimately will side with the plaintiffs.
You can read the full article at the Quad City Times.