A third state was hauled into federal court Wednesday where it will have to defend its recently enacted law to protect the privacy of animal agriculture under the force of criminal law.
North Carolina joined Idaho and Utah in being forced to defend an “ag-gag” law, legislation designed to make it more difficult for animal activists to conduct undercover investigations of animal agriculture. The North Carolina Legislature approved the law over the veto of Republican Gov. Pat McCrory in June 2015. It took effect on Jan. 1.
An Idaho “ag-gag” law that threatened offenders with jail time was found to be unconstitutional by a federal judge in 2015. Idaho appealed that decision to the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco.
Utah’s “ag-gag” law has been under challenge for two years and will likely go to trial sometime during the last quarter of 2016.
Plaintiffs in the North Carolina challenge include People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), the Center for Food Safety, Animal Legal Defense Fund, Farm Sanctuary, Food & Water Watch, and the Government Accountability Project.
The plaintiffs’ attorneys wasted no time in labeling North Carolina’s version of “ag-gag” as an “Anti-Sunshine” law.
They also argued that the law is not a “generally applicable statue that would create liability for all employees.” Rather, they said the statute “ targets are whistleblowers, such as investigative journalists and activists engaged in undercover investigations, who seek to share information with the public”
The North Carolina challenge is the first to be made on grounds of both federal and state constitutional provisions being violated.
“The law attacks the core values embodied by the federal and state constitutional protections of speech and press; it obstructs the federal and state right to petition; it violates the federal and state constitutional guarantees of equal protection and due process of the laws; and it is unconstitutionally vague,” the plaintiffs argue. “The law should be declared unconstitutional under the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitutional, and Article I, Sections 12, 14, and 19 of the North Carolina Constitution, and defendants should be enjoined from enforcing its provisions.”
While initially aimed at animal agriculture, the plaintiffs point out in their statement that the North Carolina law has a broad reach, including “virtually every industry, including nursing homes, factory farms, financial institutions, daycare centers and more.” In each instance, they say North Carolinians will lose their ability to know the truth about misconduct, mistreatment and corruption.
“Ag-gag laws like this one seriously threaten our food supply by stopping investigative activities that could keep contaminated food off the market,” said Christina Stella, attorney for the Center for Food Safety.
“Past investigations have led to food safety recalls, citations for environmental and labor violations, evidence of health code violations, plant closures, criminal convictions and civil litigation. If ag-gag laws are allowed to stand, all of this critical information would be shielded from the public eye, allowing the industry to continue to violate the law with little to no scrutiny.”
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