New motions filed in beef checkoff lawsuit

R-CALF USA asks for temporary restraining order to stop government from using money from beef checkoff collections.

Several motions were filed this week in the lawsuit R-CALF USA brought against the national beef checkoff program.

The group's lawsuit was first filed May 2 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana. R-CALF USA has filed a new motion for a temporary restraining order to stop the beef checkoff’s use, and several back-and-forth filings have occurred over the last few days between R-CALF USA and the U.S. government.

The initial complaint alleges that the government, represented by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is operating the beef checkoff in violation of the U.S. Constitution by compelling cattle producers to subsidize the private speech of private state beef councils, notably the Montana Beef Council. Members of R-CALF USA, the complaint alleges, object to the Montana Beef Council's speech because it advocates that all beef is the same, regardless of where or how it was produced.

In July, the government requested an extension of time for which to answer the complaint, and R-CALF USA did not object. The government filed a motion in early August to dismiss or stay the group's lawsuit. R-CALF USA responded with its own cross-motion in late August asking the court to award summary judgment and immediately end the checkoff program. The group claims that it is entitled to summary judgment because the government, in its motion to dismiss or stay, essentially acknowledged that the beef checkoff is improperly authorizing federal taxes to be used to fund private speech.

The government's reply to the R-CALF USA opposition to the motion to dismiss or stay was due Sept. 7, and its opposition to the R-CALF USA cross-motion for summary judgment would have been due Sept. 14, but the government again requested a delay until nearly the end of September, and the court granted the request.

On Sept. 12, the same day the court granted the deadline extension for the government, R-CALF USA filed a new motion — this one for a temporary restraining order (TRO), which is an emergency action to prevent the infliction of irreparable injury. In this case, the group seeks a TRO to stop the government from continuing to use tax monies paid by cattle producers to fund the private speech of the Montana Beef Council until the court can act on the group's cross-motion for summary judgment or a preliminary injunction.

In its pleadings, R-CALF USA argued that precedent “well establishes that a violation of the First Amendment is an irreparable injury and that the operation of the beef checkoff in Montana violates the First Amendment.” R-CALF USA went on to claim that because the fall cattle run — the time of year when many Montana cattle are sent to market — is now beginning, the TRO is necessary to prevent compounding violations of cattle producers' constitutional freedoms while the government delays action.

The government immediately cried foul and on the next day, Sept. 13, called R-CALF USA's motion for a TRO an "extraordinary request" in its atypical motion seeking to delay resolution of the TRO.

Before the ink could dry on the government's latest motion, R-CALF USA filed on Sept. 14 a response to the government's motion, accusing the government of repeatedly engaging in procedural tactics to avoid addressing the merits of the case. This, according to the motion, is inflicting additional First Amendment harms on cattle producers, as is established "by black letter Supreme Court law."

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