Federal Judge Hears Idaho Ag Gag Challenge

May 18, 2015 03:28 PM

Source: Idaho Dairymen’s Associaiton

During Idaho’s 2014 legislative session, the State Legislature passed legislation, known as Ag Security, making it illegal for unauthorized videoing and recording on agriculture operations. The newly passed statute has been challenged in U.S. Federal Court by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other plaintiffs.

On April 28th, a hearing was held in Federal District Court in Boise to argue the constitutionality of the Ag Security statute. The plaintiffs utilized the services of legal counsel from ACLU, Social Justice and PETA. The state was represented by two Deputy Attorney Generals. The Idaho Dairymen’s Assocation (IDA) petitioned Judge Winmill twice to be granted intervener status so our legal counsel could also argue the case. Judge Winmill denied those requests, leaving the state to fight the battle on behalf of agriculture. Following is a summary of the hearing, provided by David Claiborne of Saw-tooth Law.

On April 28, 2015, U.S. District Judge Lynn Winmill heard argument on the constitutional validity of Idaho’s agricultural security law. The issues in the case are not factual, and as such there will be no trial. The issues are all legal in nature and call upon the Court to determine the constitutionality of Idaho’s agricultural security law based on principles of free speech, freedom of the press and equal protection.

The Plaintiffs argue that the law is unconstitutional because it prohibits investigative journalism and other conduct preparatory to speech by animal protectionists. Plaintiffs admit they lie to gather information, but characterize their “journalistic lies” as high value lies entitled to first amendment protection. Plaintiffs further argue that the law was motivated by hatred, or animus, toward a politically unpopular group and therefore violates equal protection.

Plaintiffs’ constitutional challenge is opposed by the State of Idaho, Idaho Dairymen’s Association and Food Producers of Idaho. The argument in defense was presented by the State of Idaho. The State counters that the agricultural security law is valid legislation enacted to protect private agricultural land-owners and private agricultural business enterprises from invasions meant to cause harm to Idaho’s agricultural industry.

The defense argues that rights of free speech and of the press do not extend to non-public areas, and that lies told to cause harm to others are low value speech not protected by the constitution. As to the motivation for the law, the defense argued the law was not motivated by hatred, but instead by a concern for and desire to protect agricultural operations from wrongful conduct – operations that are spread out across the law and uniquely vulnerable to bad actors.

In his few comments from the bench, Judge Winmill indicated the case presented “cutting edge” constitutional questions and that his decision would be based on the abstract and not on the circumstances that brought the case before the Court. A decision from Judge Winmill is expected within 4-6 weeks.

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