AmericanFarm.com

‘Ag gag’ statutes under pressure (Editorial)

(Oct. 20, 2015) A statute, Idaho Code Section 18-7042, in effect created a new crime, “interference with agricultural production.”
It is one of seven states that currently have such laws.
They have been labeled “ag gag” statutes.
The Idaho version declared a person commits “interference with agricultural production” if the person knowingly: (a) enters an agricultural production facility by force threat, misrepresentation, or trespass; (b) obtains records of an agricultural production facility by force, threat, misrepresentation, or trespass; (c) obtains employment with an agricultural production facility by force, threat, or misrepresentation with the intent to cause economic or other injury to the operation, livestock, crops, owners, personnel, equipment, buildings, premises, business interests, or customers; (d) enters an agricultural production facility without consent and makes an audio or video recording of the conduct of an agricultural production facilities operations; or (e) intentionally causes physical damage or injury to the agricultural production facility’s operations, livestock, crops, personnel, equipment, buildings, or premises.”
A person found in violation of the statute would be convicted of a misdemeanor and face up to one year in jail or a fine of up to $5,000.
Guess what?
A judge in the famed ninth circuit of the federal court system on Aug. 3 of this year, after months of debate and aalysis, ruled the Idaho statute “unconstitutional.”
Idaho enacted the statute in 2014 after animal rights groups released undercover videos showing dairy workers at an Idaho farm abusing cows.
Idaho is the third-largest U.S. producer of milk, with the state’s dairy industry generating more than $2.5 billion in 2012.
With the dairy industry obviously upset over this event, the legislation was passed to protect agriculture operations from this type of undercover investigation and resulting industry damage.
In March 2014, animal rights activist groups filed a lawsuit against the state arguing that the statute violated freedom of speech and the equal protection clause since animal activists were singled out.
The court in reaching its decision, considered several complex legal applications, which led ultimately to its finding that “even if the State’s interest in protecting the privacy and property of agricultural facilities was ‘compelling’ in the First Amendment sense, the statute is not narrowly drawn to serve those interests.” 
The court reasoned further that there are already laws in existence to protect agriculture facilities in these types of events. 
For example, it is already illegal to steal documents, to trespass on to private property, or to commit fraud and defamation.
The court also found that Idaho statute failed to show why “agricultural production facilities deserve more protection from these crimes than other private businesses.”
It was because of this different treatment between industries under the statute that the court found that the statute violates the Fourteenth Amendment.
Bottom line: The court found the statute unconstitutional and granted the plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment.
Idaho attorneys are weighing an appeal. Some view that as unlikely since the case would advance to the U.S. Court of Appeals in the Ninth District, the district viewed as the most liberal in the nation.
Equally important is the fate of “ag gag” laws in those seven other states.
Already, Utah’s ‘ag gag” legislation is facing a similar constitutional challenge.
What of the Mid-Atlantic? Only Pennsylvania has had an ag gag law experience.
An attempt to introduce similar legislation there in 2013 failed.
But other Mid-Atlantic states could be vulnerable, particularly in their reliance on the poultry industry, as the animal rights movement grows more and more passionate. Instances of activist invasions of poultry processing plants have already been recorded.
The situation is worth watching.
The constitutionality of those invasions is a long way from finally being established.