Written by: Amie Alexander, JD/MPS Candidate, William H. Bowen School of Law

Animal rights groups have filed suit against Iowa officials, challenging the constitutionality of an Iowa State Statute, a so-called “Ag-Gag” law, on October 10, 2017. Iowa Code § 717A.3A (“the statute”) criminalizes undercover investigations at some agricultural facilities. The plaintiffs in this case are the Animal Legal Defense Fund, the Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, Bailing Out Benji, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, and the Center for Food Safety.

Plaintiffs allege the statute violates protections under the First and Fourteenth Amendments, including the Equal Protection Clause and Due Process.  You can read the complaint in its entirety here.

Ag-Gag statutes criminalize the undercover filming of the facilities or treatment of animals. The Iowa statute defines the crime of “agricultural production facility fraud,” as obtaining access to an agricultural production facility by false pretenses, or making false representation on an employment application “with an intent to commit an act not authorized by the owner” of the facility.

Ten states have passed similar statutes – Kansas, Wyoming, Montana, North Dakota, Iowa, Utah, Missouri, Idaho, North Carolina, and Arkansas. Three of these statutes have been struck down as a violation of free speech. Idaho and Utah state laws were struck down by federal District Courts. In September, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals held that Wyoming’s statute violated the First Amendment, reversing a federal District Court’s decision to uphold the law.

Plaintiffs advance several Constitutional claims. First, plaintiffs argue that the Iowa Statute is a content-based restraint on constitutionally-protected First Amendment speech on a matter of significant public concern, and is not narrowly tailored to meet any compelling government interest. Second, plaintiffs argued the Iowa Statute is overly broad in restricting more speech than permitted as it violates the rights of third parties not before the court. Finally, plaintiffs argue that the Iowa Statute violates the Fourteenth Amendment on the basis of Equal Protection and Due Process. Plaintiffs allege the statute targets animal protection groups, a politically unpopular group, and protect a single industry. Plaintiffs further argue that the deprivation of the fundamental right of freedom of speech constitutes a Due Process violation.