Public Justice Challenging Constitutionality of Wyoming Data Censorship Laws
Image via Ian Crowther on Flickr
Laws Challenged on First Amendment, Equal Protection Grounds
By Aidan O’Shea
Public Justice and its allies filed a lawsuit yesterday challenging the constitutionality of Wyoming laws that made it illegal for citizens to collect data about the state’s natural resources, and to make that data available to the government.
Public Justice is representing Western Watersheds Project, a group that collects water quality data to highlight agricultural impacts to publicly owned land and streams in Wyoming. The laws passed in May of this year come in direct response to citizen science undertaken by WWP seeking to determine whether the overgrazing of lands by Wyoming’s cattle industry is polluting the state’s water supply. This form of data collection by nonprofit environmental groups is crucial to monitoring the effect of agricultural practices on water quality in western states.
WWP is part of a diverse coalition of conservation, press, academic and animal-protection groups that have been hindered by the law, known as the Wyoming Data Censorship Statutes. The complaint states that the laws violate the U.S. Constitution by infringing on citizens’ First Amendment rights to free speech and to petition the government, as violating the Equal Protection Clause, by singling out the work of environmental watchdogs for punishment, and several federal environmental statutes, including the Clean Water Act.
“Though they masquerade as trespassing laws, these laws exist for one reason only: to punish citizens who dare collect and share information about natural resources that might embarrass Big Agriculture,” said Public Justice Senior Attorney Leslie Brueckner, who is representing WWP.
“This law was pushed for and passed by corporations and their allies in the state legislature as a weapon to crack down on those who dare to monitor the desecration of natural resources. In doing so, the legislature blatantly ignored the constitutional rights of the citizens of Wyoming.”
This is only the most recent in a series of Public Justice actions challenging the constitutionality of laws designed to protect the agriculture industry at the expense of citizens’ freedom of expression. In August, a federal court struck down Idaho’s “Ag-Gag” law, designed to punish factory farm whistleblowers, on the grounds that Idaho’s statute violates the First Amendment by suppressing speech that criticizes factory farms, and that it violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment because it was motivated by unconstitutional animus against animal advocates.