Judge Says Iowa Ag-Gag Law Can’t be Enforced – for Now

A federal judge issued a preliminary injunction on Monday that will prevent the enforcement of Iowa’s ag-gag law while a challenge to the law proceeds through the courts. Animal and civil rights advocates cheered the ruling as a victory, if a temporary one, in the nationwide effort to strike down ag-gag laws.

Iowa legislators passed the state’s current ag-gag law in March, and it was challenged in April by a coalition of organizations including the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa. The state had a prior ag-gag law, passed in 2012, that was struck down this January. The new version of the law was modeled after an Idaho ag-gag law that survived a legal challenge in 2018. The law criminalizes taking pictures or video at animal confinement operations in the pursuit of whistleblowing or undercover investigations.

“Ag-[g]ag laws threaten animals, food safety, workers’ rights, and the environment, and federal courts have consistently ruled that they also violate the Constitution,” said Animal Legal Defense Fund executive director Stephen Wells in a statement about the preliminary injunction. “Iowa’s lawmakers keep wasting taxpayer dollars enacting and defending these unconstitutional laws, but we have the law on our side.” ALDF is among the groups joining ACLU in challenging the ag-gag law.

Ag-gag laws were initially created in response to undercover investigations by animal rights groups to expose abusive and unsanitary conditions at animal confinement facilities. The passage of ag-gag laws in several states has united animal welfare, journalism, and civil rights groups against what they see as a challenge to free speech. The laws are generally supported by farm industry groups.

The state of Iowa has motioned to have the legal challenge dismissed, but the court denied that motion on Monday, as well.

Produced with FERN, non-profit reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.
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