In the matter of R-CALF vs. Sonny Perdue, a magistrate judge granted summary judgment to the government and the 15 qualified state beef councils targeted by R-CALF USA and its activist legal partners at Public Justice.
In May 2019, R-CALF USA filed documents in the federal district court to declare the beef checkoff practices in 15 states unconstitutional in Hawaii, Indiana, Kansas, Maryland, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Vermont and Wisconsin.
The decision of the magistrate judge will now be forwarded to the federal district court for a final ruling, NCBA said in a statement. It could continue to be appealed by either party after the district court judge issues an opinion -- a process that will continue over the next several months or longer.
“We are pleased with today’s opinion, which allows state beef councils to continue the important work of beef promotion and research. Although this case is far from complete, this was a crucial step toward ensuring state beef councils retain the important ability to direct their investments at the grassroots level,” National Cattlemen’s Beef Assn. (NCBA) chief executive officer Colin Woodall said.
“The beef checkoff continues to provide important benefits for cattle producers in the form of research and promotion that returns nearly $12 for every dollar invested in the program. The beef checkoff is weakened, and the benefits it provides our industry are put in jeopardy by lawsuits such as this one,” Woodall said. “We’re committed to defending state beef councils from these attacks and ensuring producers at the grassroots level continue to determine how checkoff dollars are invested in their states.”
R-CALF USA’s lawsuit contends that in each of the 15 states, the state beef councils are private corporations that have been keeping half of all the mandatory beef checkoff assessments collected within their states to fund their “private speech.”
The group is challenging this practice on the grounds that the First Amendment prohibits the government from compelling cattle producers and other citizens to subsidize private speech.
The remedy to this constitutional violation, according to R-CALF USA, is to allow producers in those 15 states to choose whether or not to fund private corporations. If producers choose not to fund their private state councils, their money should go to the government to fund its work on behalf of ranchers, which the Supreme Court has held is constitutional. This now occurs in Montana, where R-CALF USA was granted a preliminary injunction in June 2017.