Coalition Sues North Carolina over Constitutionality of ‘Anti-Sunshine’ Law

Posted on January 13, 2016

Law Challenged on First Amendment, Equal Protection, Due Process Grounds

For immediate release:

Contact:

Nicole A. Roth, (415) 615-2016, nroth@aldf.org

cow-cc-aristocrats-hat-article-image-230pxRaleigh, N.C. – A coalition of animal protection, consumer rights, food safety, and whistleblower protection organizations filed a federal lawsuit today challenging the constitutionality of a North Carolina law designed to deter whistleblowers and undercover investigators from publicizing information about corporate misconduct.

The state legislature overrode a veto of the bill by Governor Pat McCrory in June 2015, and the law took effect on January 1. Under the law, organizations and journalists who conduct undercover investigations, and individuals who expose improper or criminal conduct by North Carolina employers, are susceptible to suit and substantial damages if they make such evidence available to the public or the press.

According to the complaint filed today, the law’s purpose is to punish those “who set out to investigate employers and property owners’ conduct because they believe there is value in exposing employers and property owners’ unethical or illegal behavior to the disinfecting sunlight of public scrutiny.”

The plaintiffs, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), the Center for Food Safety, Animal Legal Defense Fund, Farm Sanctuary, Food & Water Watch, and the Government Accountability Project, said today that they are taking legal action because North Carolina’s law “blatantly violates our rights to free speech, to a free press, and to petition our government, and violates the Equal Protection Clause. It places the safety of our families, our food supply, and animals at risk.”

The North Carolina law is part of a growing number of so-called ‘ag-gag laws’ passed by state legislators across the country. The bills, which are pushed by lobbyists for corporate agriculture companies, are an attempt to escape scrutiny over unsafe practices and animal abuses by threatening liability for those who expose these improper and, in many cases, illegal practices. North Carolina’s version is written so broadly that it would also ban undercover investigations of all private entities, including nursing homes and daycare centers. The North Carolina law threatens to silence conscientious employees who witness and wish to report wrongdoing.

Today’s legal challenge is the first in the nation to make claims under both the U.S. Constitution and a state constitution. Last year, a federal court overturned Idaho’s ag-gag law on the basis that it violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments, and in late December a federal judge ruled that a challenge to Wyoming’s law must go forward, citing “serious concerns” about that law’s constitutionality.

The North Carolina plaintiffs are represented by David S. Muraskin and Leslie A. Brueckner of Public Justice in Washington, D.C.; and Daniel K. Bryson and Jeremy Wilson of Whitfield, Bryson & Mason LLP in Raleigh, N.C.

The following attorneys are representing their own organization: Matthew Strugar of PETA in Los Angeles, Calif.; Matthew Liebman of the Animal Legal Defense Fund in Cotati, Calif.,; Christina R. Stella and Paige Tomaselli of the Center for Food Safety in Sacramento, Calif.; Scott Edwards of Food and Water Watch in Washington, D.C.; and Sarah L. Nash of the Government Accountability Project in Washington, D.C.

Justin Marceau of the University of Denver-Sturm College of Law is Of Counsel to the Animal Legal Defense Fund.

The plaintiffs’ joint statement in full:

North Carolina’s Anti-Sunshine Law seriously hinders North Carolinians’ ability to know the truth about misconduct, mistreatment and corruption happening in virtually every industry, including nursing homes, factory farms, financial institutions, daycare centers and more. It’s an extreme law forced on citizens over a governor’s veto by lawmakers who bowed to pressure from corporate lobbyists. This law blatantly violates citizens’ rights to free speech, a free press, and to petition their government, and violates the Equal Protection Clause. It places the safety of our families, our food supply, and animals at risk, and it attempts to bully and threaten those working for transparency, free speech and the public good. Our lawsuit is being brought for the sake of the health and safety of all citizens of North Carolina. We are confident the law will be found unconstitutional and that a victory in North Carolina will deter other state legislatures from repeating North Carolina’s mistake.

Draft copies of the complaint in the suit are available for download (PDF).

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12 thoughts on “Coalition Sues North Carolina over Constitutionality of ‘Anti-Sunshine’ Law

  1. Moreno says:

    The worst unlawful acts. Need to be made public. Anal abuse is a CRIME!

  2. Moreno says:

    Animal abuse is a crime!

  3. Christy Catlett says:

    There should be ZERO tolerance for mistreatment of any living being! People who mistreat animals do not respect life to the extent they should and will likely mistreat another person at some point. It all needs to be nipped from he beginning to prevent harm to others. Period. Why don’t people, especially authorities and lawmakers get this???

  4. Kim shaw says:

    Go get em! Make “We the people” count!

  5. Kathleen Basiewicz says:

    Leave it to our Governor to slip in with a law that is underhanded. Just like upholding Duke Power with their crime, you are doing the same with Agriculture. You do not get my vote.

  6. Aico says:

    Seems unconstitutional…? Can we get someone on this??

  7. Madeline says:

    This law is a crime in itself. Governor is getting his pockets lined from someone. We are in the US of A the Land of Free Speech, keep speaking up and protesting. Anti-Sunshine law…really? What a cute name for something that is actually despicable. Shame on the Governor of NC!

  8. joyce says:

    Well said!!! in a nut shell POLITICAL BULLSHIT!!!!! Government should be making protection rights for the animals!!!

  9. Paula Schneider says:

    Brainless and heartless humans should not be in control of ANYTHING LIVING – for the stupid politicians in North Caroline – Animal Abuse is now a FELONY in the US!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Stop hiding it by padding your pockets with blood stained money from lobbyists.

  10. terri wolfe says:

    This needs federal attention, a governor must be removed and court proceedings filed against him.

  11. Richard Cook says:

    An anti-sunshine law is an anachronism from the 1900’s and were done away with then. Trying to bring back such ideas just shows how underhanded politicians have become today.

  12. m.kincer says:

    put these abusers behind bars and keep them there,they are a threat to the public !!!!!

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