N.D. Attorney General Wants More Detail in Corporate Farming Suit

July 28, 2016 11:28 AM
 
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North Dakota's attorney general says a lawsuit challenging the state's anti-corporate farming law is so vague that his office can't even respond to it.

Wayne Stenehjem has asked a federal judge to order the North Dakota Farm Bureau and other plaintiffs to amend their complaint to more specifically detail why they believe the law is unconstitutional.

He noted that the law "takes up nearly 20 pages of the North Dakota Century Code" and argued that the lawsuit makes only "numerous sweeping references" to the law's supposed problems.

"Farm Bureau does not reasonably detail what particular statute or statutes, within an entire chapter, violates the U.S. Constitution," Stenehjem wrote, adding that the state "should not be relegated to speculation or outright guesswork."

Plaintiffs' attorney Claire Smith disputed Stenehjem's assertion and said the lawsuit "speaks for itself."

"Our complaint not only clearly states the legislation that we believe to be unconstitutional, but also quotes language directly from the statute," Smith said in a statement Thursday to The Associated Press.

Wednesday was the state's deadline to formally respond to the lawsuit. It was filed in U.S. District Court in Bismarck on June 2 by the state Farm Bureau, a Wisconsin dairy farmer and a dairy company in that state that seeks to expand into North Dakota.

Voters approved the anti-corporate farming law in 1932 to safeguard North Dakota's family farming heritage. The lawsuit maintains that it actually hurts the agriculture industry by restricting business tools available to farmers, lowering the value of their operations, discriminating against residents of other states and interfering with interstate commerce.

The Legislature last year decided to allow non-family corporations to own hog and dairy operations in order to boost those dying industries in the state. However, state residents in the June primary election overwhelmingly rejected those exemptions.

North Dakota is among only nine states that restrict corporate farming. Some other states have had such laws challenged in the courts and haven't fared well. For example, a corporate farming ban approved by South Dakota voters in 1998 was struck down as unconstitutional because it interfered with interstate commerce.

Smith told the AP that the North Dakota plaintiffs believe their case is similar to South Dakota's.

In his motion, Stenehjem said North Dakota's law has survived previous challenges in both state and federal court.

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