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Idaho 'Ag-Gag' Law Struck Down As Unconstitutional

Luke Runyon
KUNC and Harvest Public Media

An Idaho District Court judge has struck down that state’s law that criminalized undercover investigations of agricultural operations. These types of laws are known colloquially as “ag-gag.”

In his decision, Judge B. Lynn Winmill writes that the Idaho case comes down to First Amendment protections for free speech.

“Although the State may not agree with the message certain groups seek to convey about Idaho’s agricultural production facilities, such as releasing secretly recorded videos of animal abuse to the Internet and calling for boycotts, it cannot deny such groups equal protection of the laws in their exercise of their right to free speech,” Winmill writes.

In 2014, animal rights group Mercy For Animals posted videos of workers at Bettencourt Dairies’ Dry Creek Dairy in Hansen, Idaho kicking, punching and jumping on cows. In response, the Idaho Dairymen’s Association drafted legislation to criminalize future undercover investigations. Idaho Governor Butch Otter signed the bill into law shortly after passage.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund filed suit against the state and enlisted University of Denver law professor Justin Marceau to argue the case.

“This is a total victory on our two central constitutional claims,” Marceau said following the decision. “Ag-gag laws violate the First Amendment and Equal Protection Clause. This means that these laws all over the country are in real danger.”

Montana, Utah, North Dakota, Missouri, Kansas and Iowa all have some form of an “ag-gag” law on the books.

As KUNC’s managing editor and reporter covering the Colorado River Basin, I dig into stories that show how water issues can both unite and divide communities throughout the Western U.S. I edit and produce feature stories for KUNC and a network of public media stations in Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, New Mexico, Arizona, California and Nevada.
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