Tag Archives: Equal Protection

Idaho’s “Ag-Gag” Bill Struck Down on Federal Constitutional Grounds

By Daniel A. Horwitz

This Monday, a federal judge issued a potentially groundbreaking ruling that an Idaho law  that sought to criminalize undercover documentation of animal abuse is unconstitutional.  According to the judge’s memorandum opinion and order, the law in question violates both the First Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.  The judge explained:

“§ 18-7042 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.”

The law was challenged by a coalition of non-profit groups including the Animal Legal Defense Fund, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho, and the Center for Food Safety, which argued that the law criminalized whistleblowing and violated the First Amendment.[1]  An amicus curiae brief was also filed in support of these groups by legendary First Amendment scholar and Dean of Irvine School of Law Erwin Chemerinsky, who successfully argued that the law unjustifiably discriminated on the basis of a fundamental right — in this case, free speech — by drawing an unconstitutional classification based on the speech’s content.

Many will remember that the Tennessee General Assembly passed a similar law amid great controversy back in 2013, only to have it vetoed by Governor Haslam after numerous animal rights activists—most notably, Carrie Underwood—waged a vigorous public relations campaign seeking to expose the bill’s true intent:  To suppress documentation of animal abuse in the agriculture industry.  Similar campaigns outside of Tennessee were far less successful, however, leading to the enactment of “ag-gag” laws in several states, including Idaho.  Monday’s ruling, however, marks the first time that an “ag-gag” law has ever been struck down in court, seriously calling into question the validity of the seven similar laws that have been enacted across the country.[2]

Questions about this article?  Email Daniel Horwitz at daniel.a.horwitz@gmail.com.

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[1] Zach Kyle and Cynthia Sewell, Federal judge strikes down Idaho’s ‘ag-gag’ law, Idaho Statesman (Aug. 3, 2015), http://www.idahostatesman.com/2015/08/03/3922838_judge-strikes-down-idaho-ag-gag.html?rh=1.

[2] See Natasha Geiling, Federal Judge Rules Idaho Ag-Gag Law Unconstitutional, ThinkProgress (Aug. 4, 2015, 12:13PM), http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2015/08/04/3687617/idaho-ag-gag-law-unconstitutional/.