The First Amendment rights to a free press and free speech ensure that government officials can’t unequally apply rules to deny a journalist access.

Yet, that’s exactly what the clerk of the Iowa House of Representatives has been doing to reporter Laura Belin for years.

That’s why Institute for Free Speech attorneys filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of Belin against Iowa House Chief Clerk Meghan Nelson for repeatedly and arbitrarily denying Belin’s application for press credentials. Belin is a well-respected reporter with nearly three decades of experience as a journalist. The lawsuit challenges Chief Clerk Meghan Nelson’s unconstitutional refusal to grant Belin’s credentials.

Since January 2019, Belin has sought credentials prior to every legislative session. In doing so, she has detailed how her independent online news site, Bleeding Heartland, meets the House’s published requirements for press access. Belin is also now the Statehouse reporter for KHOI Radio in Ames.

Despite those facts, the House Chief Clerk has denied each of Belin’s requests. These denials have occurred amidst a series of shifting requirements, with Belin initially denied for being “not media,” then denied for being “nontraditional” media, and, now, denied without any explanation.

As the 2024 Iowa legislative session continues, Belin remains obstructed from news-gathering opportunities afforded to the rest of the press corps, including observing floor action up close, attending media briefings, and accessing materials provided exclusively to credentialed reporters.

The lawsuit argues that the House’s denial of Belin’s credentials is an unconstitutional attempt to play favorites and punish dissent. By manipulating the credentialing process to exclude certain reporters, the House has violated her constitutional rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. As implemented, the credential policy itself also unconstitutionally gives Nelson unbridled discretion to deny First Amendment rights.

To read our full press release about the case, Belin v. Nelson, click here.

United States District Court for the Southern District of Iowa Central Division

The Institute for Free Speech grants permission to publish any of these photos with the credit, “Greg Hauenstein / Institute for Free Speech”

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