A coalition of consumer, animal rights, and food safety organizations filed a federal lawsuit last week challenging the constitutionality of a North Carolina ag gag law. The law is designed to deter whistleblowers and undercover investigators from gathering and publicizing information about misconduct.
Governor Pat McCrory vetoed the bill in June 2015, but the state legislature overrode the veto. This law allows lawsuits and damages against people who “expose improper or criminal conduct by North Carolina employers,” according to a statement by Food & Water Watch.
The complaint states that the law is intended to punish those who “set out to investigate employers and property owners’ conduct because they believe there is value in exposing employers and property owners’ unethical or illegal behavior to the disinfecting sunlight of public scrutiny.” The plaints include the Center for Food Safety, PETA, Food & Water Watch, Farm Sanctuary, Animal Legal Defense Fund, and the Government Accountability Project.
The plaintiffs state that North Carolina’s law “blatantly violates our rights to free speech, to a free press, and to petition our government, and violates the Equal Protection Clause. It places the safety of our families, our food supply, and animals at risk.” A U.S. District judge struck down an ag-gag law in Idaho after the Animal Legal Defense Fund brought a lawsuit against that law. The judge ruled that the ag gag law violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Idaho has appealed that decision.
But this lawsuit is a bit different. It is the first to make claims under both the U.S. constitution and a state constitution.
Undercover videos have revealed violent abuse of animals at large factory farms over the years. The Humane Society released a video in 2008 that documented abuse at Hallmark Meat Packing in California. That video resulted in a huge meat recall, and a lawsuit by HSUS against Hallmark for “defrauding the federal government by violating and misrepresenting their compliance with the terms of the federal school lunch program contracts requiring the humane treatment of animals.”