At a Glance
Nevin, Benjamin, McKay & Bartlett, LLP is local counsel in the Idaho case. R. Shane Johnson is local counsel in the Utah case.
Ag-gag laws prohibit undercover investigations and whistleblowing in animal agricultural facilities. They have proliferated in response to more than 80 investigations conducted by animal rights activists in the last decade documenting the horrific violence inherent in animal agriculture. Activists have defeated 33 ag-gag bills in a dozen and a half states since 2012. But a handful have become law—and been quickly challenged in court. CCR has submitted amicus briefs in cases challenging Idaho’s and Utah’s ag-gag laws, arguing that they stifle newsgathering and violate the First Amendment, singling out for punishment speech that is critical of violence against animals in agriculture.
CCR’s challenge to ag-gag laws is part of our longstanding efforts to combat the criminalization of dissent and, in particular, to defend animal rights and environmental activists targeted by the Green Scare.
Idaho’s ag-gag law was enacted in February 2014, despite strong public opposition. It punishes recording inside of or obtaining records from an agricultural production facility and obtaining employment through “misrepresentation” “with the intent to cause economic or other injury to the facility’s operations…owners…[or] business interests…”
The push to enact Idaho’s ag-gag law followed an investigation by Mercy for Animals on an Idaho dairy farm, and lawmakers could not have been clearer that the purpose of the law is to silence animal rights activists—explicitly stating that it was drafted to protect the economic interests of animal agriculture, that releasing undercover footage from a dairy farm and calling for a boycott of dairy products “crossed the…line,” and that the dairy industry aimed to protect itself from being “persecuted in the court of public opinion.” Animal Legal Defense Fund v. Otter/Wasden was filed by a coalition of animal activists, journalists, workers’ rights organizations, environmental groups, and civil liberties defenders.
Utah’s ag-gag law was enacted in 2012, also despite widespread public opposition. Like Idaho’s, Utah’s law prohibits recording images and sounds within an animal agricultural facility or gaining access to such a facility under false pretenses.
During hearings on the law, the bill’s sponsor referred to animal rights activists as “terrorists” an made clear the law was aimed at “the vegetarian people” who “are trying to kill the animal industry.” Other legislators argued that investigations inside animal agricultural facilities should be criminalized because they are used “for the advancement of animal rights nationally, which, in our industry, we find egregious.”
Amy Meyer, a plaintiff in the case, was the first person ever charged under an ag-gag law, after she filmed slaughter plant workers pushing a sick cow with a bulldozer. The Utah law applies to filming within facilities, but Meyer was on public property. The charges were dropped within 24 hours after the news broke. Four other activists from Farm Animal Rights Movement were charged under the law after filming a hog farm from a public roadway. Those charges were also dropped.