Federal judges so far haven’t been willing to share any of their enviable security blanket with animal agriculture.
But that might change if a strategy out of Iowa is successful. It was as recently as January that senior federal district court Judge James E. Gritzner ruled Iowa’s first “ag-gag” law was unconstitutional, mostly on First Amendment grounds.
Iowa did not roll over. It immediately pulled the pin on a strategy for a review by a potentially friendlier 8th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. The only appeals court to strike down an ag-gag law is the 9th Circuit, but the San Francisco-based court is known for making mistakes as often as law.
Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller filed a notice for appeal with the more centrist 8th Circuit and put the state’s governor and legislature on notice that the ag-gag adopted in 2012 needed work.
Oh, and Miller asked Judge Gritzner to stay the enforcement of his ruling until the 8th Circuit has its say on the issues.
Animal activists don’t want to lose the momentum they’ve enjoyed in the federal courts. Iowa wants to get its animal agriculture under that security blanket and the state wants to put the responsibility for the biosecurity of its agricultural production facilities on the judge as it steps through the process.
Attorneys representing the Animal Legal Defense Fund, PETA, and other animal welfare organizations did not wait long before sharing their concerns about the new Iowa “ag-gag” bill with the federal trial judge.
They say the newly enacted legislation “treads substantially similar ground as the old law,” again prohibiting access to and employment at an agricultural production facility by “deception,” which includes even “jailing to correct a false belief or impression as to the existence or nonexistence of a fact or condition,” when done with the intent to criticize the facility (“cause . . . economic harm. . . . to the agricultural production facility’s . . . business interests.”)
In various ag-gag rulings across the country, federal judges have prohibited states from making lying on employment applications a crime.
The plaintiffs claim the new law suffers from the same constitutional flaws as the enjoined ag-gag law, and will likely require more costly litigation between the parties.
While they clearly don’t like it, the animal rights activists acknowledge the new Iowa law will be enforceable while the appeals continue unless the judge grants an injunction.
“Because the state simply passed another law covering the same ground as the enjoined law, there is no argument that the state will suffer irreparable injury absent granting a stay pending appeal,” their court documents say.
The animal welfare groups urge the court to deny the stay pending appeal.
Iowa’s 2.0 version of its ag-gag law is just a two-page bill. It contains a three-part agricultural production facility trespass crime. It basically involves a crime of deception to gain access to a production facility with the intent of doing economic harm.
A first offense is a “serious misdemeanor” and second or subsequent violations would be an “aggravated misdemeanor.”
The first ag-gag laws were adopted 30 years ago without much notice. Agricultural states renewed their interest in the statutes after 2010 when undercover investigations of mostly large animal facilities became a common tactic for activists.
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