Des Moines, IA — 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.
Today, 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.
“Laura Belin is undeniably a journalist by any meaningful definition of the word. She is a skilled political reporter who has earned a seat alongside her colleagues in the House press box,” said Institute for Free Speech Senior Attorney Charles “Chip” Miller.
“Refusing to credential journalists for arbitrary reasons—or because lawmakers may not like tough coverage or her point of view—is censorship, period,” noted Attorney Courtney Corbello, also of the Institute for Free Speech. “We’re asking the court to put an end to this serious violation of Laura Belin’s First Amendment rights.”
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 this day, I have never received an explanation from Nelson or anyone on her behalf as to how I do not meet the press credential policy,” Belin said. “Because of how the House Chief Clerk has applied her credentialing policy, I am unable to cover legislative proceedings on equal footing with my peers in the statehouse press corps.”
To read the 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.