This week, United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit became the first federal appellate court to strike down provisions of an “ag-gag” law, ruling that Idaho’s ban on recording conditions at factory farms and slaughterhouses violated free speech rights. Idaho initially passed legislation in 2014 that banned filming practices at animal agriculture operations after animal-rights organization Mercy For Animals released footage of rampant animal cruelty at Idaho’s Bettencourt Dairy—and the state’s $2.5 billion dairy industry complained that the videos unfairly hurt their businesses. Drafted by the Idaho Dairymen’s Association, the law would have criminalized investigative public interest journalism. A lawsuit was filed the same year by a coalition of public interest groups and journalists led by the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) and it has been an ongoing court battle since then. “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 court ruled. Idaho has been ordered to pay $260,000 to the ALDF and others involved in the case. “The Ninth Circuit’s decision 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,” ALDF Executive Director Stephen Wells said. ALDF also successfully struck down Utah’s ag-gag law in 2017 and has cases pending against similar laws in Iowa and North Carolina.
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