Sovereign ImMOOnity


The Washington Times reports that California's high court has refused to hear an appeal by PETA in its false advertising suit against the state's Milk Advisory Board.

The MAB runs commercials showing happy cows grazing in lush green pastures—a depiction PETA considers a fraudulent misrepresentation of the living conditions of the state's livestock. Now, on the merits, I'm inclined to sympathize at least in principle here: I routinely pay a little more for milk and eggs advertised as having been produced in humane conditions from cage-free animals. I'd certainly feel scammed if those claims proved to be false.

But merits of the suit notwithstanding, what's a bit distressing is the rationale for the ruling: As a government entity (its part of California's agriculture department), the MAB is exempt from the state's false advertising laws. That raises the disturbing prospect that an industry can get a free pass on fraudulent claims so long as it filters them through some state bureau set up to tout their goods. Of couurse, given the penchant of all sorts of government agencies for making bullshit claims, you can scarcely blame them for wanting the exemption. (Hat tip: Rational Review)

NEXT: That's Just, Like, Your Opinion Man

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  1. I know a few PETA supporters, and they told me that they think PETA files these kinds of suits to get in the news. …and they think that’s great.

    I’m not sure this would work for Libertarian causes. I suppose we could sue some government agency for making false claims about—I dunno–mercury standards or the harmful effects of marijuana, but I’m not sure that would do much for our party appeal.

    PETA isn’t a political party. Libertarians might have to run a candidate who supported a suit against the government trying to stop them from warning kids against tobacco smoke or somethin’. Driver’s license issues, etc. are already bad enough–I’m not sure we’d want that kind of publicity.

  2. Seems like phase 2 of the corporate strategy to escape obligations to be honest after Nike Inc. failed to convince the CA Supreme Ct that it had a constitutional right to lie in the Nike v Kasky case.

    Phase 1 was accomplished at the ballot box in November with Propositin 64.

  3. Ken:
    Folks at IJ have told me that part of their strategy when they take economic freedom cases is to “win in the court of public opinion,” so to some extent, I think we’re doing that already. The suit provides a focal point to get people asking: “Why is the government hassling some people who just want to start a little hair-braiding [or whatever] business?”

  4. Advertising by the government = propaganda.

    No government, let alone ours, is going to wave sovereign immunity so people can sue for false, misleading propaganda. Propaganda by its very nature is intended to be false and misleading. Allowing “false advertising” type claims would make propaganda futile (something i’d love to see but know I never will).

  5. Bruce,

    But coverage of the suit can give us an opportunity for counter-propaganda.

    I don’t think anyone at PETA thought they were going to win this suit or put much effort into it for that matter. But it gets coverage, and they get their message out.

    …The message being that, contrary to Milk Advisory Board depictions, dairy cows don’t spend their lives in lush sun-filled pastures. In fact, their lives are quite dreary.

    I like Julian’s point. Sue a state licensing agency that won’t let someone braid hair for a living without a license. Even if you don’t win, and you probably won’t, when people hear about the case, they’ll have to ask themselves, “Should someone be able to braid hair without a license?”

    I like it!

  6. If truth was really required in advertising, all PETA press releases would be forced to include the disclaimer “PETA is run by a coalition of insane people and hypocrites”. But alas, the world is an imperfect place.

  7. I know that the dairy farmers in Wisconsin are pretty cheesed-off {..heh-heh..} about those California ads. They are of the opinion that the Milk Marketing Orders that base the price of milk on an area of the lowest cost of production, theoretically centered in Eau Claire WI, artificially depresses prices for them. Meanwhile, “factory farm” practices in CA are abetted by subsidies for electrical power and water that, were they not in place, would make large herds uneconomic in that warm clime.

    Milk production is extensively regulated by the Feds, with such sensible ideas as shipping concentrate for reconstitution discouraged in favor of every area having a local fresh supply. Farmers in areas with comparative advantage in dairying get hurt by these regs.


  8. Thank you, but I can’t find the Rational Review’s comments on it.

  9. with such sensible ideas as shipping concentrate for reconstitution discouraged in favor of every area having a local fresh supply.

    I’m reminded of a short story (“In the Barn”) by Piers Anthony about a guy who teleports to an alternate Earth without cows or other large farm animals. The need for milk is satisfied by… other means.

  10. I read that story! It was creepy.

    If I remember correctly, they had alternate sources for meat, too.

  11. Maybe putting “Dramatization” at the bottom of the screen, or some fine print stating these are not real dairy cows just bovine actresses would clear things up.

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