Legally Brief: A Step Toward Victory in Idaho Ag Gag CasePosted by Stephen Wells, ALDF Executive Director on September 4, 2014
Tremendous news today in one of the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s most important lawsuits! Protecting the billions of animals raised for meat, dairy, eggs and other products on factory farms is an important part of ALDF’s work. A key to our efforts is the ability to gather evidence about the routine cruelty that occurs on factory farms. Ag gag laws like Idaho’s are the industry’s attempt to shield corporate owners from exposés of their treatment of animals.
ALDF led a coalition of public interest groups in suing the state of Idaho arguing that its recently enacted ag gag law violates the U.S. Constitution by trying to “gag” constitutionally protected free speech. To put it simply, the law seeks to punish people who speak up about animal abuse, instead of punishing animal abusers.
Today, the U.S. District Court of Idaho ruled against the State of Idaho’s attempt to throw out our lawsuit. The court ruled instead that our coalition, which includes PETA, the ACLU, the Center for Food Safety and others, can move forward against the state of Idaho and its controversial ag gag law!
Undercover investigations, which ag gag laws are designed to prevent, have exposed egregious and horrific animal cruelty on factory farms, leading to civil and criminal penalties and adding weight to efforts to pass stronger animal protection laws. They have exposed illegal animal abuse including animals being beaten, kicked, maimed, and thrown by workers—as well as revealing the terrible conditions animals endure every day on these massive industrial farms.
The state asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit, which was filed this March, outright; instead the judge agreed the case merits its day in court. We also opposed an attempt from the Idaho Dairymen’s Association—an ag industry group—to intervene in the lawsuit as a defendant. This group played a key role in drafting the ag gag law to begin with in a disturbing collusion between industry and the government set in place to regulate that industry. The court denied this attempt to intervene in June.
Today’s ruling is important: the “motion to dismiss” is a hurdle that stops many a lawsuit in its tracks, but it looks like we, and the animals, will have our day in court. The judge recognizes that if our claims are true, then we have stated a constitutional violation. If the laws are motivated by animus or if the State cannot put forward sufficient evidence to justify the law, it is unconstitutional.
Our coalition of plaintiffs includes:
- ALDF, PETA, ACLU, CFS
- Farm Sanctuary, River’s Wish Animal Sanctuary, Western Watersheds Project
- Sandpoint Vegetarians, Idaho Concerned Area Residents for the Environment (ICARE), Idaho Hispanic Caucus Institute for Research and Education (IHCIRE)
- The political journal CounterPunch, Farm Forward, journalist Will Potter, Professor James McWilliams, investigator Monte Hickman, investigative journalist Blair Koch, and undercover investigations consultant Daniel Hauff.
In addition to this, many groups have filed amicus briefs with the court in support of our case, including:
- Center for Constitutional Rights
- A coalition of journalist organizations led by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press
What’s next? Our case now moves into the “discovery” phase, in which each side gathers information from the other as we build our legal arguments.
Our case in Idaho is our second such lawsuit. ALDF filed the nation’s first lawsuit against an ag gag law in Utah last year, and we recently won the motion to dismiss in that case as well. Both cases are moving forward and so far, we are two for two against ag gag.
For more information about why ag gag laws are bad for animals, the public health, worker safety, and the environment, please visit ALDF.org/aggag.