Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Federal judge strikes down Utah's 'ag-gag' law

A federal judge has struck down Utah's 2012 "ag-gag" law, which made undercover filming of livestock operations illegal. Several other states have such laws, so the ruling may bring their constitutionality into further doubt.

District Judge Robert Shelby ruled that the law violated the rights of the plaintiffs, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, and activist Amy Meyer. State attorneys had argued that the First Amendment doesn't guarantee free speech on private property, and said the law protects the safety of animals and workers, Jessica Miller reports for The Salt Lake Tribune. But the judge wrote that lawmakers didn't seem to be focused on safety, and had said that the law was aimed at "vegetarian people that [are] trying to kill the animal industry."

"Ag-gag laws target animal rights groups trying to document abusive practices at feedlots and slaughterhouses — but they also make it illegal for journalists to report on livestock operations that may affect the wholesomeness of people’s food or water pollution," Joseph Davis reports for the Society of Environmental Journalists. Seventeen journalism organizations, including the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, filed a friend-of-the-court brief in 2013 arguing that Utah's ag-gag law violated freedom of the press.

"The federal court ruling is important because similar laws exist in other states, including Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, Missouri, Kansas, Iowa and North Carolina," Davis reports. "Legally, a district court decision may be of limited precedential value in other federal circuits. But Idaho’s ag-gag law was also held unconstitutional by a federal district court in 2015. That case is now before an appeals court." More states have tried to pass such laws but haven't succeeded. Utah officials have not said whether they will appeal the ruling.

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