Learn more about Peltz-Steele v. UMass Faculty Federation at Court Listener (complaint) and the Liberty Justice Center. The case is now on appeal in the First Circuit as no. 22-1466 (PACER paywall). Please direct media inquiries to Kristen Williamson.

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Chile reflexiona sobre los derechos digitales en desarrollo de nueva constitución

Foto por jpereira via The Loop (c. 2019; CC no especificada)
[English.] La creación de una nueva constitución está en marcha en Chile, y los derechos digitales podrían figurar de manera importante en un nuevo modelo de derechos civiles.

Los votantes chilenos pidieron una convención constitucional en una votación de 2020. La actual constitución de 1980 fue redactada bajo la dictadura de Pinochet. Entró en vigor con el fin del régimen de Pinochet en 1990 con la transición del país a la democracia, pero su texto original y sus muchas enmiendas nunca han sido verdaderamente un producto de la democracia. En contraste, la presente convención se desarrolla con una asombrosa representación de la diversidad chilena, incluidos los pueblos indígenas, casi sin precedentes en la historia de las democracias occidentales.

Chile tiene un historial de marcar el ritmo legal para América Latina. Chile y Costa Rica fueron inusuales en la experiencia latinoamericana por no haberse convertido en una guerra civil después de la independencia. Esa estabilidad suministró un terreno fértil para el desarrollo legal. Andrés Bello elaboró el código civil del país, siguiendo el modelo francés, en 1857. El código Bello fue muy influyente en el continente y anima el derecho civil latinoamericano todavía hoy en día. Costa Rica se convirtió en un innovador en derechos humanos en el sistema interamericano en el siglo XX.

Una propuesta de línea de base en el proceso chileno exige como mínimo el acceso a internet como un derecho humano. La realización del derecho requeriría el desarrollo de la infraestructura de internet en todo el vasto país, 2,653 millas de norte a sur, abarcando desiertos y montañas. La responsabilidad del gobierno sería sustancial. No se podía dejar que el sector privado desarrollara la infraestructura de internet con los márgenes de ganancia derivados de la densidad de población, una limitación que ha atrofiado la penetración de Internet de alta velocidad en los Estados Unidos.

Pero el acceso a internet es solo un mínimo, y hay muchas otras propuestas sobre la mesa que llevarían los derechos humanos convencionales, como la libertad de expresión y la privacidad, al mundo en línea. Muchos países han reconocido aspectos de los derechos humanos convencionales en el entorno en línea. Incluso en los Estados Unidos, los tribunales han reconocido que las órdenes judiciales civiles y penales que limitan el acceso de una persona a internet pueden contravenir los derechos civiles si no se adaptan estrictamente.

La idea que el acceso a Internet para recibir información, en lugar de hablar, ha sido una propuesta precaria en los derechos humanos, de la misma manera que los regímenes modernos de derechos humanos siempre han luchado con el acceso a la información (ATI). Hace diez años, un informe del Relator Especial de la ONU sobre la libertad de expresión describió acertadamente el acceso a internet como un derecho "habilitador" ("enabler" right). En los últimos años, expliqué esta caracterización del ATI en el marco moderno de los derechos humanos.

Participantes del proceso constitucional chileno, coordinado por Patricio Urriola Aballai, director ejecutivo de la Fundación Abriendo Datos, publicaron en mayo una "Carta Magna Digital" que explora el potencial de los derechos digitales para ser reconocidos como derechos humanos.  HT @ Observacom.

Monday, August 23, 2021

Netflix's 'The Chair' satirizes academic politics with troubling truths of contemporary campus culture

Netflix's The Chair is an enjoyable six-episode sit com on the absurdity of academic politics in American higher education today.  The show was created and written by Amanda Peet and stars Sandra Oh (Grey's Anatomy, Killing Eve) as the perpetually embattled chair of the English department at a small elite college.

In one storyline, reminiscent of Scott Johnston's Campusland (2019), well meaning professor Bill Dobson (Jay Duplass) is pilloried for a mock Nazi salute, turned into a social media meme, in a class lesson on fascism and absurdism.

Comedic parody derives its beauty, of course, from its grain of truth.  Dobson's predicament is precisely one reason I have resisted routine video lecture capture.  Humor has pedagogical value, but one remark out of context is a brewing tempest in a teapot.  The risk might be worthwhile if teachers could have confidence in academic freedom.  But they can't and don't.

As depicted in the show, university administrators obsessed with appearances and virtue signaling to the near exclusion of educational mission and pedagogical merit relish any opportunity to sacrifice an iconoclastic academic to the maw of groupthink.  No shackles of investigation or professional integrity can be permitted to slow the rush to condemnation.

Jay Duplass (Peabody Awards photo CC BY 2.0
Fictional Professor Dobson defends himself to the dean: "I’m tenured.  You can’t constrain my actions in my own classroom or my speech on this campus unless I’m in violation of the faculty code of conduct.  Which I’m not."

But there's the rub: arguably, he is.  An administrator at my university has enforced against faculty the university system's "Principles of Employee Conduct." The vague principles require faculty to "accord respect" to all persons and "to accept full responsibility for their actions."

If those terms were read in accordance with others—"foster forthright expression of opinion and tolerance for the views of others"—then no problem.  But if administrators are willing to read dissent, whistle-blowing, and classroom provocation as disrespect, which they are, faculty have no real recourse.  As I wrote more than a decade ago, and others periodically observe, tenure protection grounded in procedural due process is an empty promise in practice, and courts routinely abstain from recognition of any substantive academic freedom.

Faced with dismissal proceedings, Dobson reluctantly resorts to a lawyer in the final episode of the first season.  No spoilers.

The Chair is enjoyable mostly for the comedy.  But it delivers as well periodic gems of thought-provoking truth, besides the sad state of academic freedom: the need for critical reexamination of historical subject matter and diversification of faculty perspectives, without sacrificing academic integrity; the fate of classical studies in the age of impatience; university budget cuts to unremunerative liberal arts; the personal and professional challenges of growing old amid fast-paced social evolution; and what can or should be done today to remedy past social and economic injustices of race and gender.

When the father of our protagonist Ji-Yoon Kim criticizes her work-life imbalance, an aggravated Kim retorts, "What promotion means you don't have to work as much?!"

A story for our times.

Also among the outstanding cast are Nana Mensah (Queen of Glory, King of Staten Island) and the ageless Holland Taylor.  Sophie Gilbert at The Atlantic liked it too.  HT @ Prof. Irene Scharf.

Saturday, August 21, 2021

American soccer traces roots to textile mills

In the first pandemic summer, I watched and adored the limited TV series, The English Game, which depicted the birth of modern soccer, or association football, in the context of industrialization and labor organization in the 19th century.

Fall River Rovers, 1917
For Boston.com, sports writer Hayden Bird now reveals a similar heritage for U.S. soccer in the communities of once abundant mills in my current home region, eastern Rhode Island and the Massachusetts south coast.  Bird explains in the piece:

[T]he early 20th century boom in American soccer is intertwined with the textile industry. The exponential growth of mills in the late 19th century (following the decline of the whaling industry) led to large scale immigration as skilled laborers were funneled in....

Answering the call were people who already had textile experience: those from Lancashire and the valley of Clyde. These regions, as historian Roger Allaway points out, “in addition to being the heart of the English textile industry also was the area of England in which association football [soccer] had most taken root among working class people in those same years."

And because of this, "textiles brought immigration and immigration brought football."

Bird's coverage embedded this video, which YouTuber soccermavn describes as "[p]erhaps the oldest extant professional U.S. soccer footage—snippets from the 1924 U.S. Open Cup final, played on March 30, 1924" in St. Louis, where the Vesper Buick hosted the Fall River, Mass., Marksmen.  The Marksmen prevailed 4-2.

The article is Hayden Bird, American Menace: When Fall River Ruled U.S. Soccer, Boston.com (June 21, 2018).  Hat tip @voteunion (Aaron Wazlavek), J.D.  See also Dan Vaughn, The Ghosts of Fall River, Protagonist Soccer (Oct. 29, 2018).

Friday, August 20, 2021

Tenth Circuit affirms injunction of Kansas ag gag law

My dog Rocky (2001-2019) at the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, Kansas, 2009
(RJ Peltz-Steele CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)
The Animal Legal Defense Fund has prevailed in an ag gag case in the Tenth Circuit, a three-judge panel upholding permanent injunction of the Kansas law.

I wrote recently about ag gag in the Eighth Circuit, where the court sustained a criminal prohibition on entering agricultural facilities on false pretenses.

The Kansas law was impermissibly viewpoint discriminatory, the Tenth Circuit panel held, in its requirement that the offender bear "intent to damage the enterprise conducted at the animal facility."  Because the law criminalized conduct exclusively with reference to the protected expression that would follow from entrance and recording on agricultural property, the court rejected the government's argument on appeal that the statute criminalized only conduct, not speech.

In dissent, U.S. Circuit Judge Harris Hartz—a member of the Judicial Education Advisory Board at the George Mason Law and Economics Center, participant in the Third Restatement of Agency, and once an academic—opined that merely retrenching the statutory definition to intentional deception would render the statute constitutional.  Judge Hartz and the majority found themselves in an R.A.V.-Wisconsin v. Mitchell tug of war, familiar to First Amendment scholars and law students, over whether the statutory intent requirement merely described mens rea or constituted impermissible viewpoint discrimination.

The dissent demonstrates what I wrote last week, that ag gag laws typically fail for overreach, but can be drafted constitutionally, thus, the mixed outcome in the Eighth Circuit.

The case is ALDF v. Kelly, No. 20-3082 (10th Cir. Aug. 19, 2021).  U.S. Circuit Judge Carolyn McHugh affirmed in the majority opinion, which was joined by her fellow Utahn Senior Judge Michael Murphy. Labor organizations, law professors, and a profusion of media organizations, including the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and Kansas press and sunshine advocates, lined up as amici against the Kansas law.

Legal educators tussle over politics in faculty honors

For persons interested in the ongoing tumult at the University of Arkansas Little Rock Law School over the renaming of a professorship after President Bill Clinton (e.g., TaxProf Blog, Wash. Times, Ark. Dem.-Gaz. (subscription)), apparently without faculty approval and with dubious official imprimatur, an August 19 legislative hearing on the matter is online on video.  On the Agenda tab, cue item F, at 2:06:39.

Citing, inter alia, named professorships awarded upon "cronyism" rather than merit, a police officer-student barred from open-carrying on campus in uniform until the legislature enacted a remedial statute, and refusal to permit a political conservative to teach constitutional law, Professor Robert Steinbuch concluded:

It saddens me to say but the law school is no longer an environment for unbiased legal education.  It's a hot bed of crypto leftist wokism unwittingly funded by the great people of this state being used by a select few who pocket a drastically disproportionate share of the resources to pursue their political agendas.

Dean Theresa Beiner testified that the law school decided after 20 years to honor the wishes of the donor who funded the professorship, and then, apparently, did so erroneously.  When a newspaper columnist asked for pertinent records under the state Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), the law school discovered that Clinton had "withdrawn" permission amid the investigation of his conduct in the Lewinsky affair.

Three cheers for the Arkansas FOIA.  Full disclosure: I was a co-author with Professor Steinbuch and University of Arkansas Law School Professor Emeritus John J. Watkins of the sixth edition of the treatise, The Arkansas Freedom of Information Act. 

A cheer more for the legislator in the hearing who probed the process for awarding named professorships and compelled the dean's admission that the selection occurs substantially in secret under the statutory personnel exemption.  My recollection of the selection process for named professorships at that law school many years ago accords with Professor Steinbuch's more recent experience.  When I worked there, one professor—the same one who raised a red flag over the "Clinton" name—was stripped of his named professorship when he fell out of favor.  A past dean represented that the professorship here at issue had to be awarded to one professor—the one who kicked off the present controversy by using the "Clinton" name—because of the donor's intent, rather than merit, a contention unsupported by the donor.

At the same time, my experience as a law professor suggests that very little in the American workplace works on merit anyway, legal education and the work experiences of my law students informing my conclusion.  The dean's insistence to the contrary is quaint and typical of persons in power, whatever their politics.

The fireworks show (item F) runs about 48 minutes.  The referenced exhibit, a letter from the university chancellor to the committee, is available online.

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Case Western-Red Cross program to consider international law, teachings of 'Star Trek'

Star Trek's Gates McFadden greets a soldier at a USO event
in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1996.
(Defense Department public domain image VIRIN 960303-A-6435A-009.)
A long time ago, at a law school far, far away (admitted metaphor malaprop), I wrote a symposium research piece on Star Trek's Prime Directive, as relative to the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan to dethrone the Taliban after September 11.

I concluded back in those halcyon days that the most valuable lesson of the Prime Directive is that its violation is inevitable.  The rule of non-interference in pre-warp cultures in the 23rd century speaks importantly to the virtues of cultural relativism.  But there come times when a moral society must choose between its sacred writ to respect independent social evolution and its commitment to the natural rights of sentient life.

I don't know what the chaos in Afghanistan today says about my conclusion then.  Maybe I was right, that we were justified in invading Afghanistan with our higher calling (bellum justum), but we royally screwed up the implementation (snafu ineptus).  Maybe balancing western rights and regional relativism was always fated to fail, an impossible integration of irreconcilable norms.  Maybe I was wrong, and we should have built a wall around Afghanistan, as some then advocated only partly apocryphally, and waited for an interstellar society to emerge.

A wise Ferengi once said, "The more things change, the more they stay the same."  It's 2021.  Afghanistan is in chaos.  The Taliban are in charge.  And a next, next generation of the Star Trek franchise is trying to help us make sense of our world.

On September 8, Case Western Reserve University Law School and the American Red Cross will feature Case Co-Dean Michael P. Scharf to discuss, in present context, his 1994 law review article, The Interstellar Relations of the Federation: International Law and Star Trek the Next Generation.  Here is the event description:

On May 4, 2020 (“Star Wars Day”), the American Red Cross hosted a widely attended webinar on “Learning the Law through Film: Star Wars and International Humanitarian Law.” Inspired by the huge success of this event, the Red Cross decided to celebrate Star Trek Day on Wednesday, Sept. 8, by asking the Case Western Reserve University School of Law Co-Dean Michael Scharf to host a multi-visual online presentation of his  law review article “The Interstellar Relations of the Federation: International Law and Star Trek the Next Generation.”

With four new Star Trek series currently streaming, and a new film in production, the franchise is as popular as ever. On the 55th anniversary of the broadcast of the first Star Trek episode, you are invited to join an exciting hour-long trek through international law to explore strange new worlds, seek out new life and new civilizations, and boldly go where no one has gone before!

In this lunch-hour presentation, Co-Dean Scharf will discuss current controversial issues in international law by comparing them to the interstellar law encountered by Captain Picard and the intrepid crew of the Enterprise in seven years of Star Trek: The Next Generation. The presentation covers everything from the law governing the use of force to human rights law, the law of the sea to international environmental law, and treaty interpretation to international arbitration.

The event will include an introduction by Christian Jorgensen, legal advisor of the American Red Cross’s national headquarters, and an interactive Q&A via chat.

Naturally, I cited Scharf in my 2003 article.  And we both cited the imaginative and exemplary work of Nova Southeastern Professors Paul Joseph and Sharon Carton.  This vein of research and pedagogy rendered me fortunate to meet Joseph before he passed away much too early, in 2003, and also to meet Professor Christine Corcos, a treasured colleague, collaborator, and expert in teaching law with popular culture.

Incidentally, "Star Trek Day" on September 8 marks, as the CWRU event description says, the first franchise broadcast in 1966.  But the more important date of consequence in the lore of the Prime Directive is April 5, First Contact Day.

While we're on the subject, check out this paean to Trek from WNYC's Brooke Gladstone. This is a reprise of a 2006 piece, honoring Gene Roddenbery's birthday, August 19, 1921, a century ago.

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Observers grasp at hopes for Afghan women

If you're like me, you're watching events in Afghanistan unfold with heartbroken anxiety.  (And there's Haiti, but let's take one tragedy at a time.)  I'm not usually a sucker for the broadcast news kicker (though once upon a time, I loved to write them), but David Muir punched the breath out of me with this one.

After talking to our daughter, 22, my wife shared the realization that today's young adults don't have contemporary recollection of the brutality of Taliban rule in pre-9/11 Afghanistan, especially the implications for women's freedom and education.

Afghan women in literacy class in 2008
(U.N. photo CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Those of us in adult life on September 11 became acquainted with a flood of unpleasant subject matter in the 20-aughts.  I taught a couple of communications courses back then with Ahmed Rashid's Taliban (1st ed. 2000), for example.  Maybe ten years ago I gave my copy of the book to Goodwill, thinking it of only historical interest.  Now here we are.

That prompted me to wonder whether this Taliban is the same as that Taliban.  Is there any hope?  I noticed Taliban leaders on TV giving interviews to female reporters.  I wasn't the only one who noticed.  My academic colleague James Dorsey, my favorite commentator on MENA and author of the blog, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer, has published a commentary on point, in print and podcast.

Spoiler alert, Dorsey does not reach the conclusion that this is somehow a kinder and gentler Taliban.  But at this point, we have to salvage any hope we can.

[UPDATE, Aug. 18.] A friend pointed me to this fundraising site, which is genuine: Support Afghan Guides and Fixers.  One of its organizers is Lupine Travel, a partner of mine and a solid UK-based enterprise.  

[UPDATE, Aug. 22.]  Check out this fascinating interview (Aug. 19) at PRI's The World with the exiled captain of Afghan women's soccer.

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

'What is truth?': 8th Circuit wrangles over ag gag

The Eighth Circuit reached mixed outcomes yesterday in First Amendment review of the Iowa "ag gag" law, upholding a criminal prohibition on entering agricultural production facilities under false pretenses.

Sausage packing in Chicago, 1893
"Ag gag" refers to laws designed to deter undercover investigative reporting on the agricultural industry, especially by criminalization. On the one side, journalists, public health advocates, and animal rights activists point to a tradition of undercover reporting dating to the Upton Sinclair muckraking classic The Jungle (1906), which exposed labor exploitation in the meat industry.

Journalist and professor Brooke Kroeger—who filed an amicus with the Eighth Circuit in the instant case—in her book Undercover Reporting: The Truth About Deception (2012), actually traces the tradition farther back, to reporting on slavery and human trafficking in the 19th century.  For a more recent entry in the genre, check out Michael Holtz's fascinating pandemic-era report, in last month's Atlantic, from inside a Kansas slaughterhouse.

On the other side, private business and advocates for private property rights point to the simple proposition that falsehood is impermissible in commerce and should not be permitted to facilitate trespass and undermine (markedly unidirectional) employee loyalty.

Insofar as the problem boils down to the criminalization of falsity, a fuzziness surfaces in First Amendment fundamentals.  The U.S. Supreme Court has long recited competing mantras on the permissibility of state regulation of falsity.  For example, commercial speech doctrine cuts a wide berth for the regulation of false and misleading expression, allowing free speech and consumer protection law to coexist upon the premise that falsity has no social value.  At the same time, First Amendment doctrine in areas such as defamation law, animated by the Miltonian-Millian philosophy of liberty, tells us that a free marketplace of ideas must allow for the expression of falsity so that truth can be tested and revealed.

The Court tackled this dichotomy in United States v. Alvarez in 2012, striking down part of the Stolen Valor Act of 2005, which criminalized misrepresentation of military honors.  But the Court fractured on rationale.  The plurality applied First Amendment strict scrutiny, and a concurrence would have applied intermediate scrutiny.  No one challenged the negligible scrutiny that abides criminalization of falsity in perjury, for example.  The distinction that upped the ante in Alvarez was the statute's "sweeping, quite unprecedented reach," regardless of context, regardless of motive.  Whereas a perjury prohibition plainly protects the integrity of the judicial process, the Stolen Valor Act pertained "to a false statement made at any time, in any place, to any person," for any reason.

And it was on that distinction that the Eighth Circuit perceived a difference in two provisions of the Iowa ag gag law.  One provision the court, affirming the district court, struck down, concerning the criminalization of false statements on an employment application.  The Iowa legislature, like Congress in Alvarez, overreached.

The proscription of the Employment Provision does not require that false statements made as part of an employment application be material to the employment decision.... [The statute] allows for prosecution of those who make false statements that are not capable of influencing an offer of employment. Plausible scenarios abound: the applicant falsely professes to maintain a wardrobe like the interviewer’s, exaggerates her exercise routine, or inflates his past attendance at the hometown football stadium.

The court reached a different conclusion on the provision prohibiting access to agricultural production facilities upon false pretenses.  That implication of falsity was sufficiently linked to "a legally cognizable harm—namely, trespass to private property"—that the court placed the provision beyond First Amendment review, distinguishing the ag gag law from the Stolen Valor Act.  "The better rule in light of Alvarez is that intentionally false speech undertaken to accomplish a legally cognizable harm may be proscribed without violating the First Amendment."

The opinion has a bit of candy for tortheads, too, in reasoning that even trespass warranting only nominal damages is "a legally cognizable harm."  "Trespass is an ancient cause of action that is long recognized in this country. See United States v. Jones [U.S. 2012]; 3 William Blackstone, Commentaries  ... ," the court began.

[The district] court’s own citation to Black’s Law Dictionary acknowledged that nominal damages are "awarded when a legal injury is suffered but there is no substantial loss or injury to be compensated." Damages, Black’s Law Dictionary (10th ed. 2014) (emphasis added). Nominal damages are not "purely symbolic, a mere judicial token that provides no actual benefit to the plaintiff." Uzuegbunam v. Preczewski [U.S. 2021]. They are, rather, damages paid to a plaintiff that provide redress for an injury. Id.... Even without physical damage to property arising from a trespass, these damages may compensate a property owner for a diminution of privacy and a violation of the right to exclude—legally cognizable harms. See ALDF v. Wasden ... (9th Cir. 2018) (Bea, J., dissenting in part and concurring in part); see also Cedar Point Nursery v. Hassid [U.S. 2021] ("The right to exclude is one of the most treasured rights of property ownership.")....

The complainant in the Iowa case is the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF), which has litigated and is litigating ag gag challenges throughout the country.  (I'm faculty adviser for the Student Animal Legal Defense Fund at UMass Law.)

The first time I testified in a legislative hearing, in my first year of teaching in 1998, I spoke, at the invitation of the Society of Professional Journalists, against an Arkansas ag gag bill.  The bill died in committee.  In the 1990s, an earlier generation of ag gag laws targeted speech about Big Ag as a form of civil or criminal defamation.  That approach was especially vulnerable to First Amendment challenge.

Food Lion Kings Mountain, N.C.
(Mike Kalasnik CC BY-SA 2.0)
At the same time, in the 1990s, the Food Lion case against ABC News, over undercover reporting on food mishandling, was playing out in the courts.  By decade's end, Food Lion prevailed against the ABC defendants for trespass and breach of the employee duty of loyalty, but not for defamation or fraud.  Big Ag learned to reframe ag gag to focus on conduct, rather than speech.  The next generation of ag gag laws aimed to protect private property against trespass, feigning ignorance of First Amendment implications.

Presently, the ALDF is fighting a broad Arkansas ag gag law, in the property-protective vein, enacted in 2017.  On Monday, the day before the Iowa opinion was announced, the Eighth Circuit revived and remanded the ALDF suit in Arkansas.  The district court had dismissed upon an erroneous understanding of First Amendment standing.  The Arkansas law is a model of special interest legislation enacted at the behest of Big Ag power-player Vaught Farms.

The Eighth Circuit opinions in both the Iowa case and the Arkansas case were authored by Judge Steven Colloton, an Iowan.  Judge Colloton had different co-panelists in each case, and both panels generated a dissent.  In the Iowa case, Judge Raymond Gruender, a Missourian reportedly short-listed by President Trump for the Supreme Court, would have upheld the Iowa law in both provisions.  In the Arkansas case, Judge Bobby Shepherd, an Arkansan criticized for upholding Missouri anti-abortion laws to set up a challenge to Roe v. Wade, tracked the erroneous reasoning of the district court on standing.

I find worth quoting a short concurrence in the Iowa case.  Judge L. Steven Grasz, a Nebraskan, hints at the relationship between ag gag and the bigger First Amendment picture of our contemporary misinformation crisis.

This nation was founded on the concept of objective truth ("We hold these truths to be self-evident...."). And some of our nation's oldest institutions were founded as instrumentalities of the search for truth (Veritas). The quest for truth has not, of course, ended; nor has the clash between the free flow of ideas and the desire to punish untruthful speech that is perceived as harmful. The law has long provided for legal consequences for false speech constituting fraud, perjury, and defamation. The present case, however, presents a new category of deceit which the State of Iowa seeks to penalize. Some see it as investigative journalism. Others see it as lying to further an agenda at the expense of private property rights. In either sense, its punishment presents a legal dilemma between protecting property and protecting speech. While some have always questioned whether truth can be known ("What is truth?"), our task is not to answer that question but simply to determine whether the constitution allows the government to criminally punish falsity in the specific context of the statute before us.

I join the court's opinion in full because I believe it is consistent with current law, as best we can determine it from limited and sometimes hazy precedent. Still, I do so hesitantly as to the Access Provision. The court's opinion today represents the first time any circuit court has upheld such a provision. At a time in history when a cloud of censorship appears to be descending, along with palpable public fear of being "cancelled" for holding "incorrect" views, it concerns me to see a new category of speech which the government can punish through criminal prosecution. Ultimately, the Supreme Court will have to determine whether such laws can be sustained, or whether they infringe on the "breathing room" necessary to effectuate the promise of the First Amendment.

Going forward, a key question will be whether access-by-deceit statutes will be applied to punish speech that has instrumental value or which is tied to political or ideological messages....

In general, public interest constitutional litigation against state ag gag has fared very, very well in the courts.  So the Eighth Circuit distinction on the Iowa access provision bucks the trend, which is not to say the court was mistaken.  To my mind, most of the victories against ag gag, as in the Iowa case, have derived from legislative overreach.  As I told the Arkansas committee in 1998, it is possible to draft an "ag gag" bill that would pass constitutional muster.  But such a statute would substantially duplicate the existing tort law of trespass, fraud, and product disparagement.  And while common law tort accommodates constitutional norms by design, rigid statutes are more prone to invite expensive legal challenge in the application.

The real problem, politically for Big Ag, is that it wants more than tort law gives, or than constitutional law permits.  And for public interest advocates, the problem ultimately is one of policy, not constitutional law.  Legislators must be motivated to choose accountability over campaign donations, and the public must be motivated to care about labor conditions and animal welfare, even when opacity precludes investigation.

These cases also resonate in the vein of transparency and access in the private sector.  As I have written previously, contemporary social and economic woes increasingly arise from private-sector abuse of public trust, and our cramped notion of state action is critically diminishing democratic accountability.

The Iowa case is Animal Legal Defense Fund v. Reynolds, No. 19-1364 (8th Cir. Aug. 10, 2021).  The Arkansas case is Animal Legal Defense Fund v. Vaught, No. 20-1538 (8th Cir. Aug. 9, 2021).