Federal Judge Rules Ag-Gag Law Violates Free Speech

Judge M. Margaret McKeown overturned Idaho’s ag-gag law—which made collecting undercover footage at factory farms illegal—on the basis that it illegally targeted free speech and hindered investigative journalism.


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Last week, United States Circuit Court Judge M. Margaret McKeown granted an appeal of Idaho’s standing “ag-gag” law. Idaho passed legislature in 2014 that banned filming practices at animal agriculture operations after animal-rights organization Mercy For Animals released footage of workers stomping on cows and other egregious abuse at Idaho’s Bettencourt Dairy. “The panel held that the subsection criminalized innocent behavior,” Judge McKeown’s 56-page ruling stated, “was staggeringly overbroad, and that the purpose of the statute was, in large part, targeted at speech and investigative journalists.” The ag-gag law included language that specifically targeted audiovisual recording, which the court found to be suspicious. “Without some legitimate explanation,” the ruling stated, “we are left to conclude that 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.” In July, US District Court Judge Robert Shelby reversed a similar ag-gag law in Utah, stating the law was unconstitutional because it violated the First Amendment right to free speech.