Censorship

Judge Strikes Down Idaho's 'Ag Gag' Law as Unconstitutional

Dairy protection legislation criminalized secret filming of abusive treatment of farm animals.

|

This is not a dead cow.
Mercy for Animals

In a ruling both welcome and obvious, a federal judge has ruled that Idaho's law criminalizing the secret filming of animal abuse at farms and agricultural facilities is an unconstitutional violation of free speech.

Here's how U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Mill described the law's impact in the ruling (pdf):

Under the law, a journalist or animal rights investigator can be convicted for not disclosing his media or political affiliations when requesting a tour of an industrial feedlot, or applying for employment at a dairy farm. … An employee can be convicted for videotaping animal abuse or life-threatening safety violations at an agricultural facility without first obtaining the owner's permission. … Any person who violates the law—whether an animal rights' investigator, a journalist, or an employee—faces up to a year in jail. In addition, a journalist or whistleblower convicted under the law can be forced to pay publication damages pursuant to a restitution provision that requires payment for "twice" the "economic loss" a business suffers as a result of any exposé revealing animal abuse or unsafe working conditions.

In other words, [the law] seeks to limit and punish those who speak out on topics relating to the agricultural industry, striking at the heart of important First Amendment values. The effect of the statute will be to suppress speech by undercover investigators and whistleblowers concerning topics of great public importance: the safety of the public food supply, the safety of agricultural workers, the treatment and health of farm animals, and the impact of business activities on the environment. Indeed, private party media investigations, such as investigative features on 60 Minutes, are a common form of politically salient speech. A review of Idaho media reports in recent years reveals a range of undercover investigations from life on the streets, to wolf-hunting contests, to family planning services, to public-school safety. Such investigations into private matters, both by government and private actors, are recognized and embraced as important political speech in Idaho.

The judge notes that the proponents of the law have openly declared that its purpose is to protect the dairy industry from undercover investigation and references Upton Sinclair's The Jungle and how it exposed terrible conditions in Chicago stockyards. Under such a law, Sinclair would face prosecution for misrepresenting himself to get access. The judge also points out that laws against trespassing, fraud, theft, and defamation already exist: "These types of laws serve the property and privacy interests the State professes to protect through the passage of [the ag gag law], but without infringing on free speech rights."

I have to wonder if there's a potential Venn diagram of those who would celebrate this decision but want California and the Department of Justice to throw the book at the Center for Medical Process or support judicial censorship for their secret filming and release of videos about how Planned Parenthood treats fetal tissue. I also have to wonder if there's a reverse Venn diagram of those who are outraged at animal rights activists secretly filming and distributing images of cattle abuse but nevertheless hold the Center of Medical Process up as heroes.

The Idaho Statesman notes that seven states currently have "ag gag" laws. Idaho's is the first to be struck down. We will have to see if others follow.

Keep Food Legal's Baylen Linniken has written at Reason how "ag gag" laws suppress free speech. Read what he had to say here

NEXT: Police Union: No 'Just Cause' for Firing Ray Tensing, Ohio Campus Cop Who Shot and Killed Unarmed Man

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Secretly filming Planned Parenthood officials auctioning off baby parts is of course totally different and subject to prior restraint.

    You can’t criminalize speech or get a judge to suppress its publication unless it is libelous or embarrasses Planned Parenthood. Your remedy is to sue for trespass or under a state wiretapping statute if the state is a two party consent state.

    This law was clearly unconstitutional and should have never been passed.

    1. Are you aware that the prior restraint against the Center for Medical Progress was sought by StemExpress, not PP?

      1. I don’t think that matters. If you think its a private business reason well so are farms.

      2. So? Do you think they would have gotten it had the film not embarrassed Planned Parenthood? Not in a million years.

        1. So…you’re wrong? What does it cost to not be wrong if you think the truth still makes PP look bad?

          1. I am not wrong at all. I said “ununless it is libelous or embarrasses Planned Parenthood”. I never said PP had to be a party. I said if the video embarrasses them, a judge will grant you prior restraint if you ask.

    2. Did the PP video really get suppressed? I haven’t been paying attention since I find the whole controversy pointless and annoying. Terrible decision if true.

      1. John is just channeling Bill O’Reilly’s comically misinformed butthurt, because it is a day of the week.

        1. No I am telling the truth. You are of course lying because you are a lying evil sack of shit who will say anything to defend your side. Fuck you Tony.

          http://hotair.com/archives/201…..of-august/

          1. The grounds are that members of the NAF fear harassment and violence, a perfectly reasonable concern considering how fucking batshit insane these activists and their supporters are. But let me just mark you down for being on the side of undercover reporting exposing unpleasantness in perfectly legal operations, be it animal farming or abortion.

            1. You don’t get prior restraint unless you allege libel. The judge was completely wrong here. But you being a fascist idiot don’t see that because as long as your side wins you don’t care. You are happy to see children dismembered and sold for spare parts. Of course you don’t have a problem with the judge ignoring the Constitution for a favored political group. It is who you are.

      2. Yes. A judge in California granted a party prior restraint and ordered several of the videos not to be released.

        http://hotair.com/archives/201…..of-august/

  2. I live in Idaho. This wasn’t very popular in Idaho, and I think that most Idahoans are happy to see it go. That it didn’t pass Constitutional muster isn’t much of a surprise.

    The farmers, ranchers, and dairymen of my acquaintance are humane people. Most of them I talked to considered this law to be an embarrassment.

    Although agriculture is important to the state’s economy, its influence is completely out of proportion to its size.

    1. That is the way it is in a lot of states. And yeah most ranchers are humane people. You don’t get into ranching if you hate animals or get off on torturing them. It is also bad business to treat your farm animals badly. They are your livelihood.

      1. While I agree with this, as well as the decision, there is a real problem that a lot of ranching can appear cruel.

        There is a legitimate concern that undercover video will be used selectively to create the impression of cruelty- for example, I have been to county fairs in liberal bastions like Los Angeles as well as in rural areas. It is not uncommon in reality to see a handler smack a 300lb show big on the rump- hard- to get it to move about. The pig doesn’t feel it, and it is often all they have at a show. However I’ve watched with bemusement at the LA county fair as people nearly faint at seeing this happen. (And just imagine the horror many clueless people display when you tell them that 4H kid who just won best of show is going to get some serious cash when they sell their animal to the slaughterhouse.)

        Those concerns aside, at some point if you want to do business in a changing culture, the answer is not to hide behind walls, but to adopt practices that look good. I periodically drive by a huge dairy and cattle ranch which looks abhorrent to people not familiar with ranching. Those companies are going to have to change if they don’t want their business to suffer.

        1. If only the average person would educate himself/herself about ranching instead of swallowing environmentalist propaganda.

          1. If only the average person would educate himself/herself about everything instead of swallowing progtard propaganda.

            FTFY

    2. Yeah, it sounds like someone was trying to made a wedge issue.

      Getting the animal rights folks to denounce you is probably better than a celebrity endorsement if you’re a politician in Idaho.

      1. I think there is a real fear among larger ranchers. It isn’t just someone causing you to lose business, but it is also the fact that many of these people trying to expose “cruelty” are the same type of people trying to gin up “Anti Cruelty” legislation. If this were just about losing business, that would be one thing. However when there is a crusade to mandate every single ranch becoming “free range” locations, I can see why businesses want to protect their interests. Not that I approve, but I do understand.

        1. “However when there is a crusade to mandate every single ranch becoming “free range” locations, I can see why businesses want to protect their interests.”

          There is no way to justify this law, but it’s not the ranchers’ interests at issue, it’s the general population.
          Look at the result of CA’s ridiculous ‘chicken walk’ law; higher egg prices nationwide.

          1. Well certainly, the public loses whenever you fuck with business’ ability to produce their product how they want.

            The sad thing is that we are already getting what these evirotards want- more and more small farms, dairies and ranches with “organic”, “Slow food”, “Local”, “Farm to table” labels are starting up every day. And they largely support affluent families’ habits.

            There are, however, many entrenched businesses that offer cheap food to a larger portion of our country by industrializing food production. I don’t have a problem with it, because they are providing a valuable service to customers. Effectively outlawing that practice (which is environmentalist/peta’s end game) will indeed make life harder on the consumers of that industry. However, the businesses that sell to the consumers are the ones with the most invested in avoiding that.

  3. Judge Strikes Down Idaho’s ‘Ag Gag’ Law as Unconstitutional

    Good. One small blow against cronyism.

  4. Shackford pulling the unplanned transparenthood from Planned Parenthood into the discussion? Someone’s aiming to up his comment count.

    1. The judge in California is a hack who ignored the Constitution.

  5. “The judge also points out that laws against trespassing, fraud, theft, and defamation already exist”

    The judge is right.

    And if dairy farmers require their new employees to sign a document stipulating that they won’t publish pictures or video of their employer’s farm without the farmer’s permission, then there is no reason why a farmer shouldn’t be free to go after an undercover employee for breach of contract.

    1. He can. He can, however, only get damages. He can’t prevent the film from being published. Diary Farmers are not Planned Parenthood.

      1. Either are animal rights activists.

  6. In other news, Puerto Rico has officially gone tits up.

    http://www.the-american-intere…..defaulted/

    I eagerly await various Progressives informing us that this failure, like the failure of every other socialist government in the Caribbean and Latin America is due to US interference and aggression.

  7. this ruling should help those who filmed Planed Abortion I mean Planed Parenthood

    1. You mean “StemExpress,” actually.

      1. StemExpress was filmed too?

        1. Yes, and they’re the ones who got the injunction against publication of the video.

          1. Nikki, do you really think this makes a difference? The point still remains: if the ox being gored is the industrial farming industry, everyone is happy to see free speech carry the day. But if it is progressive favorite, industrial abortion, that is being harmed suddenly rights of privacy should trump rights to speech.

            It’s obvious that this injunction is about helping Planned Parenthood, and their communications around this specific case as well as the video releases demonstrate that they think the same. So even if it is a related third party that filed for the injunction, I don’t think the distinction makes any difference.

  8. The law needs to go.Also,I would never let strangers on a farnm I owned .There are many things that happen on farms many would cringe at but are just the course of business.Plus ,animal rights idiots have a habit of editing to get people on their side.I would not want them in my duck blind or on a deer or upland hunt.BTW,milk cows are the dumbest animails you’ll ever meet.Hogs are the most dnagerous. I remember killing chickens and rabbits with my grandfather with a hatchet.Not for the faint of heart.

    1. An aside,a good farmer dosen’t stress his milk cows,they don’t produce well if you do.

    2. It would be funny to see a herd of hogs let lose at a PETA facility, probably up until the point they started upending people and gnawing on them.

      1. …Then it would be hilarious.

        1. I’ve been chased by a hog,fun it an’t

          1. I’ve been chased by a feral sow with piglets. Sadly, I was unarmed at the time.

            Most scared I’ve ever been.

            1. “Deliverance” moment?

              1. I escaped unmolested.

                I couldn’t outrun her. I could outrun her spawn, and she was unwilling to leave them behind merely for the pleasure of opening my femoral arteries.

  9. IIRC, the Planned Parenthood videos were taken at restaurants, not PP property.

    1. Except the ones where they’re picking through the dead baby for parts.

    2. Ther is no such thing as private property any more,and if you make money there your considered a public entity..Get with the prog-gram.

  10. Under such a law, Sinclair would face prosecution for misrepresenting himself to get access

    A: Sinclair didn’t start working there to get the dirt on the plant.

    B: Sinclair was trying to highlight the ‘plight of the workers’ and push communism, not expose the filthy conditions of the food.

    C: Sinclair was a writer, his anecdotes could be argued as fiction, there was no photographic or video evidence in his case.

    1. Sinclair was trying to highlight the ‘plight of the workers’ and push communism, not expose the filthy conditions of the food

      Exactly. Sinclair was frustrated and disappointed that the food conditions were what got everyone’s attention.

    2. It’s such an odd book. He highlighted a lot of very real problems but the proposed solutions were absolutely wacko.

      1. but the proposed solutions were absolutely wacko

        Well, there was really only one solution. After dispensing with the capitalists, the Democrats, and the unions in turn, Lewis concluded with:

        We shall have the sham reformers self-stultified and self-convicted; we shall have the radical Democracy without a lie to cover its nakedness! And then will begin the rush that will never be checked, the tide that will never turn until it has reached its flood – that will be irresistible, overwhelming – the rallying of the outraged workingmen of Chicago to our standard! And we shall organize them, we shall drill them, we shall marshal them for the victory! We shall bear down the opposition and sweep it before us – and Chicago will be ours!

        1. “I, Governor of California, and How I Ended Poverty” (? 1934)

          I was going to say “thank God he was never elected governor of anything,” but then I remembered that this self-reverential, messianic complex has infected pretty much every elected official ever.

    3. Umm, A and B are contradictory. He did start working there to get dirt on the plant, only it was dirt relating to workers, not animals.

      1. My mistake, I had been under the incorrect impression that he’d been a legitimate employee. I looked and found that he had in fact not been.

        That, however, doesn’t make them contradictory.

  11. I also have to wonder if there’s a reverse Venn diagram of those who are outraged at animal rights activists secretly filming and distributing images of cattle abuse but nevertheless hold the Center of Medical Process up as heroes.

    Just check all the twitter outrage at the overturning of the ag-gag law. I’m sure its just burning up the conservative twitter. Right behind denying women control over their bodies no cause is more dear to them then the right to abuse animals for commercial food production in secret. WAR ON COWS!

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.