Breaking! U.S. Federal Court Issues Preliminary Injunction Of Iowa’s New Ag-Gag Law

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The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa issued a preliminary injunction, preventing the state from enforcing its new ag-gag law while the lawsuit to permanently block it proceeds. The court also denied the state’s attempt to have the lawsuit dismissed. Pending final resolution of the case, the court’s decision will allow lawful undercover investigations and reporting to resume in Iowa.

The injunction temporarily blocked Iowa’s second ag-gag law which is very similar to an earlier ag-gag law passed by the Iowa Legislature. The initial law, Ag-Gag 1.0, also criminalized lawful investigations and protected speech at factory farms, slaughterhouses, and puppy mills. Ag-Gag 1.0 was struck down by the same federal court last January. Other federal courts have similarly struck down ag-gag laws in Idaho and Utah as unconstitutional.

“We warned Iowa legislators that Iowa’s Ag-Gag law would trample on free speech in our state, and violate the Constitution,” says Rita Bettis Austen, Legal Director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa (ACUL-IA) in a statement. “The First Amendment rights of journalists, investigators, and advocates that are at stake in this case are vital to our democracy. Today’s win was an important step toward securing those rights.”

In March, Iowa lawmakers enacted Ag-Gag 2.0, which creates the new crime of “agricultural production facility trespass” — making it illegal for a person to gain access to an agricultural production facility through deception if the person intends to cause “injury” to the “business interest” of the facility. Since someone who finds and makes public violations of food safety protocols, environmental protections, workers’ rights, and animal welfare laws can damage a business’ reputation, Ag-Gag 2.0 unconstitutionally stifles free speech.

Both lawsuits were brought by a coalition of public interest groups composed of the ACLU of Iowa, Animal Legal Defense Fund, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), Public Justice, Center for Food Safety, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, and Bailing Out Benji.

Undercover investigations have a long, crucial history in this country and are an important source of information on practices in animal agriculture. In 2012, when Iowa’s first ag-gag law was passed, it achieved its goal of suppressing undercover investigations in animal agriculture and effectively ceased them.

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