Leading the Fight Against “Ag Gag” Laws
In recent years, more and more state legislatures have – at the urging of lobbyists representing factory farm operations and industrial food producers – taken up “Ag Gag” laws that shroud mega-farms in secrecy and make holding them accountable for pollution, unsafe working conditions and animal abuse difficult, if not impossible.
At Public Justice, we believe everyone has the right to know where their food comes from, how it is produced, and the health and environmental ramifications of factory farming. We also believe tax payers have a right to know if, and how, public lands such as national parks are being polluted in illegal and destructive ways. That’s why our Food Project has led the way in challenging these laws in court.
We’re currently challenging four states’ laws and actively looking at potential challenges to other, recently passed measures in states across the country. In addition to fighting Ag Gag laws in court, we’re also committed to educating the public about why these laws harm us all (through partnerships with innovative programs and storytellers like The Crowd & The Cloud), and to mobilizing opposition when they are introduced in state legislatures.
Here’s a snapshot of our work in states across the country:
Idaho: Working with a coalition of groups, we helped secure the very first court decision declaring an Ag Gag law unconstitutional. Idaho’s statute made it crime for employees to go undercover at a factory farm and report violations taking place at those facilities. The district court agreed with our argument that the state’s law blatantly violated the First Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The state has appealed our victory, and we are helping defend the decision before the Ninth Circuit. The argument to uphold this first-of-its-kind win will be on May 12th in Seattle.
Wyoming: When Wyoming first passed its Ag-Gag law the state made it a crime to tell the government about pollution. After a federal district court indicated the law was shockingly unconstitutional, state lawmakers rewrote the statute with only the most superficial of changes. In its current iteration, Wyoming’s law makes it a crime to accidentally touch private property in the process of gathering data on public or private land, but only if the data gathered is the exact information the state requires to evaluate pollution. Preventing people from petitioning their government for environmental protections remains unconstitutional. Public Justice is proud to be lead counsel appealing the lower court’s ruling. Our Food Project attorneys will present oral arguments before the 10th Circuit on May 8th in Denver.
North Carolina: We’re leading the challenge to the state’s law – vetoed by then-Governor Pat McCroy but pushed through by legislators who overrode the Governor’s action – which makes it illegal to collect information about an employer or private property owner (such as a factory farm operation) and provide that information public . . . including by turning it over to federal officials, the press, or lawmakers. We’ll be in district court on April 4th, fighting the state’s attempt to have our challenge dismissed.
Utah: We’ve submitted amicus briefs supporting a legal challenge to the state’s law, which mirrors the bill we’ve successfully challenged in Idaho. Our allies leading the challenge successfully defeated the state’s motion to throw out the case. We anticipate the district court will soon rule on the law’s constitutionality.
With each win against these dangerous bills, we send a clear message to other state legislatures and Governors that these bans cannot survive legal scrutiny and are not supported by the public. Working with coalition partners we have identified other, similar laws. We’re determined to fight for transparency and defend everyone’s right to know the truth about how factory farms, industrial polluters – and their corporate lobbyists – operate.
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Homepage image via Mercy for Animals on Flickr.