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More ‘Ag-Gag’ Bills Could be Decided Before Courts Rule on Challenge

It’s unlikely that the constitutionality of the new “ag-gag” laws of Idaho and Utah will be known until after those states hold legislative sessions in 2015, and maybe even until after another round of lawmaking in 2016.

The controversial “ag-gag” statutes, which prevent undercover investigations at animal agriculture facilities, were adopted in Utah in 2013 and in Idaho this year. San Francisco-based Animal Legal Defense Fund along with other activist groups and some individuals challenged both in federal courts this year.

In each case, federal judges have dismissed some plaintiffs and defendants from the litigation, and in one the judge dismissed one of the claims against the state. B. Lynn Winmill, chief judge for the U.S. District Court for Idaho, tossed a challenge to a section of Idaho law that makes causing the intentional damage or injury to livestock or property a crime.

Winmill also released Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter from the Animal Legal Fund’s lawsuit, leaving Attorney General Lawrence Wasden to defend the law. In Utah, U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby dropped several plaintiffs from further involvement.

Shelby sent web/print publication Counterpunch, journalists Will Potter and Jesse Fruhwith and history professor James McWilliams all packing. The only individual plaintiffs remaining are Amy Meyer, who was originally arrested under the law, and Daniel Hauff, an experienced undercover animal abuse investigator.

The judge also dismissed federal preemption as a potential cause of action in the Utah lawsuit. This means the animal defense attorneys cannot argue that the Utah “ag-gag” is unconstitutional on grounds it might interfere with something like a whistleblower’s investigation into a federally regulated establishment.

Still, foundations for both lawsuits remain largely intact, and likely to go to federal jury trials. Both lawsuits advance claims based on basic rights under the 1st and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

“In short, the Utah law infringes the rights of Plaintiffs and give the animal agriculture industry a virtual monopoly on the most relevant and probative speech on a top that is of vital important to the public,” the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s original complaint filed in Salt Lake City says, “thereby allowing the industry to provide a misleading account of activities in animal operations and hide violations of animal cruelty, labor, environment, and food safety laws.”

Court documents indicate that lawyers for both sides do not see much chance they will reach a settlement. Trial dates have not been set, but neither is likely to find their way on to a court calendar very soon.

In Idaho, which was filed about four months ahead of the Utah case, the deadline for dispositive motions is March 9, 2015. Such motions are those seeking a trial court order to settle all claims in favor of the moving party without the need for any further court proceedings. A motion for a summary judgment is one such dispositive motion.

All the plaintiffs in the Idaho case, including 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) recently filed a motion for summary judgment.

In the motion they argue that they are entitled to judgment in their favor because the statute—Idaho Code sec. 18-7042—violates their right to free speech and other rights protected by the U.S. Constitution. They say as a matter of law, this statute cannot withstand legal scrutiny.

The Idaho “ag gag” statute makes it a crime to conduct an undercover investigation at an Idaho agricultural facility, making it possible for anyone convicted of videotaping animal cruelty or other violations to go to face prosecution.

In his 31-page decision, Judge Winmill said the issues he was allowing to go to trial were “ripe for review.”

In Utah, the deadline for dispositive motions is Nov. 16, 2015. If the dispute continues, court documents indicate a trial date will likely be set for the third quarter of 2016.

Agriculture protection has been a hot legislative topic since 2010, with four states: Iowa, Missouri, Utah and Idaho adopting statutes that critics have labeled “ag-gag” laws. The current court schedules mean there will be at least one and maybe two more rounds of legislative sessions in most states before any federal court decision on the practice becomes available.

© Food Safety News
  • Fiona

    With each action, the animal ag industry proves itself to be rotten to the core, we should just start referring to them as the Meat Mafia.

  • Unreal

    Don’t you enjoy the enlightened and trendy comments of the animal rights “activists”? I have learned so much by reading their statements.
    1. They consider the most knowledgeable source of information to be some dingbat who carries around a stuffed animal, or waves a protest sign and screams like an idiot. Vets, farmers, owners, breeders, or anyone else with any actual experience is to be completely ignored.
    2. Anyone who is not a vegan, or who owns an animal or a farm is scum. None of them are to be trusted or believed. They are, as stated so eloquently in another post, “rotten to the core”.
    3. People who own or use animals are “exploiters”. There is apparently nothing “exploitive” about the groups who raise millions of dollars based on lies, misinformation and hysteria concerning animals and their owners.
    4. Animals would be better off dead than living under “servitude”, etc. They love animals so much that they want them all dead, and to be completely removed from people. (One more trendy and cool term that I’ve recently become aware of – animal abolitionist).
    5. We need to be more accepting of people, and more compassionate – well, unless you’re an animal owner, and then you’re deserving of hate, death threats, or vile and deranged comments.
    If this doesn’t sound like a delightful bunch of people, I don’t know what does. As soon as I get this finished, I’m going to donate even more money to them, so that they can continue with their honest, moral, and honorable work.

    • snoopcat

      You don’t speak for me Mr. Unreal: I’m an animal rights activist, animal lover & meat eater. I was going to use the word: “carnivore” but I wasn’t sure you would know what the word meant.The animal rights movement is made up of a broad spectrum of people very few of whom fall into your “strawman” description. I enjoy eating meat but only if it has been humanely raised & slaughtered & is free of antibiotics & hormones. The only way I can be assured of this is if there is transparency in the industry. The purpose of the Ag-gag laws is to protect the meat companies from being prosecuted for breaking animal cruelty laws. The vast majority of ARA would agree with me.

  • MaryFinelli

    Plainly the animal ag industries do not want the public to see what they are doing: torturing animals. The government should not provide them with legal cover to do so.

    • Jane

      Need these great laws and more for the rest of the animal owning and meat
      eating public to protect those from these highly crafted, heavily cut/paste
      videos. The stop action at just the right moment to give the illusion of abuse.
      The showing of decades old footage and even footage from other countries and
      industries to also give the illusion of abuse. When you have groups of people
      hell bent on attaining their agenda of ending all animal use at any cost,
      something needs to be done to protect all others from their wrath.

  • fearnot

    It does not help when you use the term “ag gag” yourselves read The Rules For Radicals , Saul Alinsky
    RULE 10: “If you push a negative hard enough, it will push through and become a positive.” that is when you do when you use their language.

  • Mark Caponigro

    Gag laws, intending to punish and silence whistleblowers or investigators of those operations in the running of which the public have an interest (and that certainly includes farms, ranches, and slaughterhouses), are unethical, and should be abolished.

  • Jane

    Have you taken in account that the Animal rights groups that don’t want any
    animal use what so ever will do and ignore anything in the interest in reaching
    their agenda? People don’t send in donations or side with passing laws to stop
    agriculture if they were told things are fine and only a few situations need
    improving now do they?

    • tricia100

      “only a few situations need improving’???? There is a steady stream of undercover investigations revealing animal abuse. Oh, I forgot, those people are all liars. The people using these animals and profiting from them tell the gospel truth.

      • Jane

        Point made, I said that people do not send in donations if their told that
        only a few situations need improving. You just showed that the heavily cut
        paste, videos are working and convincing people with absolutely no animal
        experience but a few household pets and no clue they are being scammed to rally
        for their (animal rights) cause and send in donations. Yes, their is some real
        abuse, there always’ will be, but not nearly what you are being convinced to
        believe. Really, can’t get it to sink in, there is months of filming and only
        less then two minutes of film shown. With most of these videos showing nothing
        but background. If there really was that much abuse with the hundreds of
        thousands of animals they are in contact with over those several months and they
        have to use the same animals, bring in outside film from other places to make it
        look good enough to get your donation and vote!!!!!!!!!!!! As a farmer, multi
        anima/species owner, trainer and breeder my entire life, I can tell you first
        hand no abuse is tolerated. No animals will be productive, nor work if abused.
        The fastest way to go into the hole is to not care for your animals. I can also
        tell you the out right lies and description but into those videos.

      • Jane

        Point made, I said that people do not send in donations if their told that
        only a few situations need improving. You just showed that the heavily cut
        paste, videos are working and convincing people with absolutely no animal
        experience but a few household pets and no clue they are being scammed to rally
        for their (animal rights) cause and send in donations. Yes, their is some real
        abuse, there always’ will be, but not nearly what you are being convinced to
        believe. Really, can’t get it to sink in, there is months of filming and only
        less then two minutes of film shown. With most of these videos showing nothing
        but background. If there really was that much abuse with the hundreds of
        thousands of animals they are in contact with over those several months and they
        have to use the same animals, bring in outside film from other places to make it
        look good enough to get your donation and vote!!!!!!!!!!!! As a farmer, multi
        animal/species owner, trainer and breeder my entire life, I can tell you first
        hand no abuse is tolerated. No animals will be productive, nor work if abused.
        The fastest way to go into the hole is to not care for your animals. I can also
        tell you the out right lies and deception put into those videos.

  • Jane

    Watch the videos with open eyes and a clean mind and the sound off. Follow
    the outcome once the experts and law enforcement view them, or if they are lucky
    enough to get a hold of the film. If you did not get the first hint that they
    filmed for several months and only come up with less then 2 minutes of clips.
    Then the second hint is only a few examples are shown, with many being of the
    same animal out of hundreds of thousands raised. Third hint is they have been
    caught staging the abuse. Watch the clothing and the people in the videos, same
    in most all throughout. The majority of people today live in urban city life and
    don’t live with their food animals 24/7. If they did they would spot the
    discrepancies. Look up and follow up on these released videos and see what the
    experts say, and no these Animal rights groups are not the experts in animals,
    their care or husbandry.

  • Jane

    If you want to eat vegetables only that is your choice. But don’t call
    those who choose to vary their diets abusers, exploiters and making a profit a
    sin. All others who work for a living can make a profit off their hard work but
    those who raise animals? Do you have any idea how many animals and living
    things are killed raising vegetables? From tilling up their habitat, to the
    actual growing of and the harvesting of those vegetables!!!! Who is the screwed
    up one?

  • danakincaid

    I just realized that conservatives DO NOT want you taking pix and vids on farms documenting animal cruelty (Ag-Gag) – which prevent undercover investigations at animal agriculture facilities, but they DO want to be able to take vids and pix “documenting” and lying about Planned Parenthood.

    Oh the irony. Creeps.