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"Victory" for Animals as Federal Court Smacks Down Parts of Idaho's Ag-Gag Law

The industry-crafted law was "in large part, targeted at speech and investigative journalists," appeals court found.

"Idaho is singling out for suppression one mode of speech—audio and video recordings of agricultural operations—to keep controversy and suspect practices out of the public eye," the new ruling said. (Photo: Geshu34/flickr/cc)

A federal appeals court on Thursday struck down key provisions of Idaho's ag-gag law—which criminalizes those who secretly document abuse of animals at agricultural facilities—saying they violate the First Amendment.

The ruling, the result of a lawsuit led by Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF), was hailed as a victory for animal rights, workers, and free speech.

Regarding the section of the law criminalizing "misrepresentation" to gain access to a facility, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit found "the overbreadth ... staggering," adding "that the purpose of the statute was, in large part, targeted at speech and investigative journalists."

Further, the court said "Idaho is singling out for suppression one mode of speech—audio and video recordings of agricultural operations—to keep controversy and suspect practices out of the public eye."

"We are sensitive to journalists' constitutional right to investigate and publish exposés on the agricultural industry. Matters related to food safety and animal cruelty are of significant public importance," the ruling states.

The court upheld the part of the law that "criminalizes obtaining records of an agricultural production facility by misrepresentation" as well as the section that "criminalizes obtaining employment by misrepresentation with the intent to cause economic or other injury."

According to ALDF, the ruling is a "precedent-setting victory."

Stephen Wells, executive director of the organization, said it "sends a strong message to Idaho and other states with ag-gag laws that they cannot trample civil liberties for the benefit of an industry."

The Center for Food Safety, which was also party to the suit, welcomed the ruling on Twitter:

The law—drafted by dairy industry lobbyists—was passed in 2014 and overturned in 2015 by a federal court. The state then challenged that decision.

As ALDF's Wells stated, similar law exist in other states across the country, and a recent report by Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and Defending Rights & Dissent spotlighted how they "are part of a sweeping crackdown on dissent."

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