First Amendment

Judge overturns Idaho 'ag gag' law barring undercover videos at agricultural facilities

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A federal judge in Idaho has found that Idaho’s so-called “ag gag” law violates the First Amendment.

U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill ruled on Monday, striking down the law that criminalizes undercover videos at agricultural facilities, report the Associated Press, the Los Angeles Times and the Idaho Statesman. The ruling (PDF) is the first striking down an ag gag law in the United States, according to animal rights activists.

The law strikes “at the heart of First Amendment values,” Winmill wrote. “The effect of the statute will be to suppress speech by undercover investigators and whistleblowers concerning topics of great public importance: the safety of the public food supply, the safety of agricultural workers, the treatment and health of farm animals, and the impact of business activities on the environment.”

Winmill cited the methods used by author Upton Sinclair, who misrepresented his identity to get a job at a Chicago meatpacking plant to gather material for his 1906 novel The Jungle.

Winmill also said the law violates the equal protection clause because it was motivated by animus toward animal welfare groups.

Idaho lawmakers passed the law after an animal rights group released a video showing workers beating, kicking and jumping on cows at an Idaho dairy facility. Gob. C.L. “Butch” Otter signed the measure in February 2014.

The law makes it a crime to enter an agricultural facility or obtain its records by force, threat, misrepresentation or trespass, and to record videos at such facilities without the owner’s express consent. Violators can sentenced to up to a year in jail and forced to pay damages equaling twice the economic loss suffered by the business.

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