Court rules Idaho 'ag gag' law unconstitutional

By Sarah Gonzalez

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, Aug. 3, 2015- The U.S. District Court of Idaho has ruled that the state's so-called “ag gag” law, which criminalizes surreptitious videotaping at an agricultural operation, is unconstitutional.

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U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill ruled Monday that the statute violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments, marking the first time a court has declared such a law unconstitutional. Six other states have similar rules, including Iowa, Kansas, Montana, Missouri, North Dakota and Utah.

Idaho lawmakers passed the law in 2014, claiming to target “agri-terrorism.” It made “interference with agricultural production” a crime with a penalty of up to one year in jail and $5,000 in fines. The rule covers recording anything at an agricultural production operation without permission; intentionally damaging crops, animals or equipment; misrepresenting oneself in seeking employment at an agricultural operation; and obtaining records of an operation by “force, threat, misrepresentation or trespass.”

The bill, sponsored by Idaho Republican state Sen. Jim Patrick, was created in response to a video showing animal rights abuses at a Bettencourt, Idaho, dairy farm.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund challenged the law, alleging it stifled public debate about agriculture and criminalized investigative journalism. The court ruled that the statute violates the First Amendment by suppressing speech and was motivated by unconstitutional animus against animal advocates, which is a violation of the Equal Protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Plaintiffs in the case include the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF), People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Idaho, and Center for Food Safety (CFS).

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