Summary of 8th Circuit Opinion in Animal Legal Defense Fund v. Reynolds
By: Zoe S. Wissler
The United States Court of Appeals recently ruled on the constitutionality of Iowa’s ag gag law, providing clarity on whether the scope of 2019 amendments to the law are unconstitutional under the First Amendment. Iowa’s ag gag laws prohibit (1) accessing an agricultural production facility by false pretenses and (2) making a false statement or misrepresentation as part of an application for employment at such facility on a matter that would reasonably result in a denial of an opportunity to be employed. See Iowa Code § § 717A.3(1)(A)-(B).
The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals previously held that a prior version of the ag gag law was unconstitutional because it was insufficiently tailored and encompassed statements that were not material to an employment decision. Animal Legal Defense Fund v. Reynolds, 8 F.4th 781 (8th Cir. 2021). In 2019, Iowa’s Ag Gag law was amended to narrow the scope of both prohibitions by adding an intent element. Now, the law forbids the use of deceptive speech only when the person gains access or employment “with the intent to cause physical or economic harm or other injury.” Challengers of the law argued that the intent element of the employment provision makes the statute an unconstitutional viewpoint-based restriction on speech.
The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals held that although the statute includes an intent element, it is not view-point based and therefore is constitutional. A statute that limits speech with a motive requirement aimed at the task of filtering out conduct is constitutional when focused on acts that are “thought to inflict greater individual or societal harm.” The Court held that the statute’s intent element is constitutional as it “determines whether particular conduct violates the statute but does not mean that the violation turns on the viewpoint of an offender’s deceptive speech. Rather, the intent requirement permissibly reflects “the general view that criminal punishment should be reserved for those who intend the harm they commit.”
Moving forward, to determine whether an individual violated the employment provision of Iowa’s ag gag law, courts will consider whether (1) the individual made a false representation as part of the application for employment at the facility on a matter that would result in a denial of an opportunity to be employed and (2) whether the individual had the intent to harm the facility when making the false representation.