Des Moines, IA — It took five years of determination, but reporter Laura Belin finally has her press credentials from the Iowa House of Representatives.
The House Chief Clerk has now recognized the obvious truth that Belin has a First Amendment right to perform her vital role of informing the public without facing unfair obstacles. That resolution of a long-simmering dispute over free speech and press freedom rights came mere days after the filing of a federal lawsuit by the Institute for Free Speech.
Belin has sought press credentials from the Iowa House of Representatives before every legislative session since January 2019. In her requests, Belin has demonstrated how her independent online news site, Bleeding Heartland, meets the House’s stated requirements for media access. Belin also now works as the Statehouse reporter for KHOI Radio.
Despite those qualifications, the House Chief Clerk denied Belin’s credentials in each instance, offering shifting rationales—first saying she did not qualify as media at all, then denying her based on being “nontraditional” media, before finally denying access with no explanation whatsoever.
As of today, Belin has her credentials at long last.
“Filing this lawsuit made House leaders understand that they have been violating my First Amendment rights. For years, the Chief Clerk applied the chamber’s credentialing policy unfairly and inconsistently, which prevented me from covering legislative proceedings on equal footing with my peers in the statehouse press corps,” explained Belin. “I’m deeply grateful to the Institute for Free Speech for their work on this case and stunned by how fast the Institute was able to help me obtain my credentials. I hope this victory for press freedom will make any public official reluctant to deny access to reporters, either as retaliation for tough coverage or because of political bias.”
The sudden decision to reverse course came just days after the Institute filed suit on Belin’s behalf against Iowa House Chief Clerk Meghan Nelson. The lawsuit highlighted that the denial of press credentials was arbitrary, violated Belin’s First and Fourteenth Amendment rights, and unconstitutionally gave Nelson unbridled discretion to decide who should be credentialed.
Belin’s five-year ordeal is now at an end, and she can take her rightful place in the House press box.
“We’re very pleased with this outcome, and the lightning-fast resolution sends an unmistakable message that censorship of journalists is unacceptable,” said Institute for Free Speech Senior Attorney Charles “Chip” Miller. “Recognition of Ms. Belin’s status as a journalist was long overdue. The House’s belated decision to grant her credentials is a welcome one, albeit one that should have been made in 2019. We stand ready to defend other journalists in the future.”
“Ms. Belin endured shifting obstacles for years. But once litigation demonstrated the serious constitutional issues, the House had to recognize her qualifications,” commented Attorney Courtney Corbello, also with the Institute for Free Speech. “This case underscores the First Amendment principle that public officials cannot manipulate press credential policies to play favorites or suppress critical coverage.”
To read the original complaint in the case, Belin v. Nelson, click here.
About the Institute for Free Speech
The Institute for Free Speech promotes and defends the political speech rights to freely speak, assemble, publish, and petition the government guaranteed by the First Amendment.