Challenging Iowa’s Recording Ban Ag-Gag Law

The Animal Legal Defense Fund, together with a coalition of public interest groups represented by Public Justice, filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa, challenging the constitutionality of the recently-passed Iowa Recording Ban — a new Ag-Gag law.

Updated

August 10, 2021

Work Type

Litigation

Status

Active

Next Step

Defendants to Answer Complaint

On August 10, 2021, The Animal Legal Defense Fund, together with a coalition of public interest groups represented by Public Justice, filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa, challenging the constitutionality of  Iowa’s Recording Ban. The new Ag-Gag law, creating the new crime of “trespassing” to engage in video and audio recording, again criminalizes the tools of undercover journalism and investigations in violation of the First Amendment, just as did the state’s previous two Ag-Gag laws that were challenged in the past. 

While the previous two Ag-Gag laws in Iowa targeted investigative deception and misrepresentation to gain access and employment at industrial agriculture facilities, the new law has created a unique crime to deter investigations and public advocacy. The law threatens increased penalties for recording even in public places and locations advocates have long used for public advocacy, such as in open areas of legislators’ offices, parts of businesses in which other members of the public regularly come and go.  

For more than a century, the public has relied on undercover investigations to expose illegal and cruel practices on factory farms and slaughterhouses. No federal laws govern the condition in which farmed animals are raised for food, and laws addressing slaughter and transport are laxly enforced. Undercover investigations are the primary avenue through which the public receives information about animal agriculture operations.   

The coalition comprises plaintiffs Animal Legal Defense Fund, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, Bailing Out Benji, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, and Food & Water Watch, who are represented by Public Justice, in-house counsel, the Law Office of Matthew Strugar, and Roxanne Conlin & Associates. 

Who is being sued, why, and under what law? The governor and attorney general of Iowa, and Iowa county prosecutors, for violating the U.S. Constitution.   

What court is the lawsuit filed in? U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa   

Why this case is important: Ag-Gag laws like Iowa’s violate the U.S. Constitution by inhibiting free speech about factory farms, slaughterhouses, and puppy mills. This threatens civil liberties, food safety, and animal protection. Iowa is the biggest producer of pigs raised for meat and hens raised for eggs in the United States, making it critically important that investigations there are not suppressed.