Recently, the Eight Circuit upheld one of two challenged provisions of Iowa’s Agricultural Production Facility Fraud statute.  The Access Provision passed constitutional muster against allegations that the statute violated the First Amendment free speech clause—but the employment provision did not.

The Eight Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part the United States District Court for the Southern District of Iowa’s grant of summary judgment for plaintiff organizations “alleging that Iowa statute criminalizing agricultural production facility fraud, which prohibited accessing such a facility by false pretenses and making false statements as part of employment application to to a facility, violated the First Amendment free speech clause.”  See Animal Legal Defense Fund v. Reynolds, 8 F.4th 781 (8th Cir. 2021).

Applying complicated decisions from Supreme Court jurisprudence, the Court agreed with the State arguing that the Access Provision of the statute “which provides that a person is guilty of agricultural production facility fraud if he ‘obtains access to an agricultural production facility by false pretenses’ . . . is consistent with the first Amendment because it prohibits exclusive lies associated with a legally cognizable harm—namely, trespass to private property.”  Id., at 785-786.

However, the Court upheld the district court’s ruling that the Employment Provision is unconstitutional on its dace under the First Amendment, because that provision “provides that a person commits an offense if he ‘makes a false statement or representation as part of an application or agreement to be employed at an agricultural production facility, if he ‘knows the statement to be false, and makes the statement with an intent to commit an act authorized by the owner of the agricultural production facility, knowing that the act is not authorized.”’  Id., at 786-787.

The Court stated that a less restrictive means to prevent the State’s compelling interest in preventing false statements to secure offers of employments could be to proscribe only false statements that are material to a hiring decision, but could not amend the statute accordingly.  Perhaps the legislature could introduce such an amendment to rehabilitate this law.

One panelist concurred with the Court holding, but another concurred in part and dissented in part, and would have upheld the two challenged provisions a constitutional.

It will be interesting to see the next legal steps.