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Idaho files appeal on 'ag-gag' law

Ninth circuit requested to rehear case which was designed to protect farmers from animal activists conducting video surveillance on their farms.

Idaho is appealing an August 2015 decision which struck down its “ag-gag” law which was signed into law in March 2014. Idaho’s law was designed to protect farmers from animal activists seeking to conduct video surveillance, obtain records or gain employment with intent to cause economic harm.

At the time the district court said the law violated the first and 14th amendments.

The law was the seventh bill of its kind nationally, following up on recent bills passed in Iowa, Utah and Missouri. North Dakota, Montana and Kansas that adopted first generation bills during the 1990-91 legislative session.

In the August court opinion, the judge stated, “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.”

The court also found that the statute violates the Equal Protection Clause because it was motivated in substantial part by disposition towards animal welfare groups, and because it “impinges on free speech, a fundamental right.”

PETA Foundation General Counsel Jeff Kerr said, “The district court agreed with PETA that it's unconstitutional to criminalize free speech, and we fully expect that the appellate court will agree as well and uphold this ruling. All Americans have a First Amendment right to expose criminal wrongdoing, including cruelty to animals, just as the public has a right to know that meat-industry workers are kicking pigs in the head, stomping on chickens, and throwing turkeys around like footballs.”

Kerr added, “The right to free speech must prevail here, just as it has prevailed in Florida, Illinois, Tennessee, and the 17 other states where ‘ag-gag’ bills have been roundly defeated.”

The groups who filed the lawsuit, led by the Animal Legal Defense Fund, filed a motion with the court asking that the state pay more than $250,000 to cover their attorney fees and costs. Ag groups include the Idaho Farm Bureau and Idaho Dairymen’s Assn. had been urging the state to appeal the ruling to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, reports indicated.

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