District and appellate courts since 2010 have struck down the many ag-gag laws states have approved to protect animal agriculture.

But the United States Supreme Court has not yet reviewed the issue, and that will not happen anytime soon.

This week, the Supreme Court turned down North Carolina’s appeal to stop operatives from secretly taking documents and recordings without the owner’s permission.

Without taking action, the Supreme Court left the People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) with the win, knocking out the North Carolina law passed in 2015.

After Ag-gag laws were originally based on criminal law, North Carolina was known for switching to civil law, but in a 2-to-1 ruling, the 4th U.S. Circuit of Appeals also said that law could not be enforced for Constitutional shortcomings.

And since the Supreme Court isn’t reviewing any ag-gag laws, they are not getting any further. The various rulings have even found there is a First Amendment right to lie on an employment application if it is to obtain an undercover job in animal agriculture.

Four provisions of the North Carolina law were struck down by the 4th Circuit in 2020.  Those were appealed by North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein and UNC-Chapel Hill, and the North Carolina Farm Bureau Federation.

Stein’s appeal questioned whether audio-visual recordings always become protected or if they might not be protected property if the property owner does not consent.

David Muraskin, PETA’s attorney, warned of a “chilling effect” for whistleblowers if the speech isn’t protected.

Farm Bureau’s Jake Parker said the failure of the Supreme Court to take up the case was “disappointing and troubling.” 

The agriculture industry employs ag-gag laws to protect farm animals and limit whistleblower activity,  “Ag-gag” is a label used by a New York Times writer who favored the whistleblowers.

Ag-gag laws typically refer to state laws in the United States that forbid undercover filming or photography of activity on farms without their owner’s consent — and mainly target whistleblowers or animal activists at such agricultural facilities.

These laws have primarily been struck down when challenged on arguments that they create a chilling effect and violate freedom of speech and the First Amendment.

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