Utah will not appeal a federal court ruling that the state’s 2012 law against agricultural operation interference violates the U.S. Constitution. It is the only one of several state “Ag-Gag” laws which resulted in someone’s arrest and brief jailing.
A spokesman for Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes Thursday told Food Safety News there would be no appeal. Reyes assistants previously told the court they won’t be filing a Notice of Appeal with the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver.
The winners of the case, the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) put out a press release celebrating their victory. Federal Judge Robert J. Shelby with the U.S. District Court for Utah in July ruled the state’s law was unconstitutional.
The impetus for the lawsuit against Utah was the arrest of local animal activist Amy Meyer. She was taken into custody under the statute by Draper, UT police, but released when local prosecutors found out she was on public property.
The Utah attorney general’s spokesman, Daniel Burton, passed on the opportunity to say why the state is not appealing the decision.
Idaho also lost a district court ruling on its “Ag-Gag” law, and currently is pursuing an appeal in the liberal 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Both sides made oral arguments before a three-judge panel in Seattle in May. The appellate court could rule any day.
“Utah’s decision not to appeal its loss is a signal to other states that these unconstitutional Ag-Gag laws are indefensible,” said ALDF Executive Director Stephen Wells. “Should Utah’s legislature try to pass a new Ag-Gag law to replace the last one, we’ll see them back in court.”
Montana, North Dakota and Kansas were the first states to adopt such laws about 25 years ago. Then, beginning in 2010, six more states passed similar laws. Animal welfare activists, who often conduct undercover investigations, opposed the bills. Idaho, Utah and North Carolina all saw their laws challenged in federal court. The challenge to North Carolina was dismissed.
A half dozen attorneys who represented the animal welfare groups will share in $473,416 if Judge Shelby goes along with their request for attorney’s fees. Shelby gave Utah until Sept. 20 for negotiations on the issue. About $250,000 went to the winning lawyers in the Idaho case, which went much faster than the Utah litigation, which stretched over about four years.
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