U.S. Court Judge Strikes Down Idaho Ag-Gag Law: 'The Remedy is More Speech, Not Enforced Silence' 

click to enlarge GEORGE PRENTICE
  • George Prentice
In a major blow to the Idaho Legislature and Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter—and the fortification of the First Amendment—the U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho Monday ruled that the so-called "Ag-Gag" law was unconstitutional because the court found it "violates the Equal Protection Clause because it was motivated in substantial part by animus towards animal welfare groups, and because it impinges on free speech, a fundamental right." 

In April 2011, Boise Weekly visited a Jerome livestock auction as part of our award-winning investigation where we discovered high levels of drugs found in cattle linked to Idaho dairies (BW, News, "Got Milk? Got Drugs? Got Both?" April 6, 2011).

But auction officials weren't too pleased with our presence—going so far as to manhandle our photographer and call us "terrorists." But if a 2014 measure pushed through the Idaho Legislature and signed into law by Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter had been in effect at the time, we would have faced up to a year behind bars and fines of up to $5,000.

That was reason enough for a coalition, including the the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF), People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), the American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho (ACLU), and Center for Food Safety (CFS), to challenge the constitutionality of Idaho’s “Ag Gag” statute.

And in a ruling issued Monday by B. Lynn Winmill, Chief Judge of the U.S. District Court for Idaho, the court found that the State's argument in favor of the law was "narrowly tailored to protect private property" and "the State completely ignores that food production is not a private matter."

"The remedy for misleading speech, or speech we do not like, is more speech, not enforced silence," wrote Winmill."The Court finds that [the Ag-Gag law] violates the First Amendment." 

The Chief Judge also wrote that, "Although the State may not agree with the message certain groups seek to convey about Idaho's agricultural production facilities, such as releasing secretly-recorded videos of animal abuse to the Internet and calling for boycotts, it cannot deny such groups equal protection of the laws in their exercise of their right to free speech."

Reacting to Monday's ruling, the Animal Legal Defense Fund cheered the verdict, saying "Ag-Gag laws are notoriously unsupported by the public. The Idaho decision is just the first step in defeating similar Ag-Gag laws across the country."

And Nathan Runkle, president of Mercy for Animals wrote, "Idaho lawmakers should be ashamed of wasting precious time and valuable resources enacting unconstitutional laws that threaten animal welfare, food safety, workers' rights and the environment."

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