In a split decision, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has partially affirmed the district court’s findings that an Idaho “ag-gag” law is unconstitutional. The Idaho law was passed under the guise of protecting farmers from disruption to their business. In reality, it was carefully crafted to stop animal rights activists from conducting undercover operations at industrial farming facilities. To protect industrial agriculture, the law made it illegal for an individual to use false pretenses to gain access to or surveil an agricultural operation.
A handful of states, succumbing to pressure from industry groups, have enacted ag-gag laws like this to silence whistleblowers and allow factory farms to hide inhumane conditions at their facilities. These laws prevent activists from documenting common industry practices such as intensive confinement, physical alterations conducted without pain relief, and unsanitary and unsafe conditions on farms.
The court agreed with animal rights activists that the law’s recording ban impeded their First Amendment rights. (Last year, a district court ruled Utah’s ag-gag law unconstitutional on similar grounds. The Utah attorney general elected not to appeal.) The Ninth Circuit did, however, uphold the provision in Idaho’s law that criminalized obtaining employment by misrepresentation with the intent to cause injury. Despite this, it is a victory for animals and their advocates in Idaho, who can—at least in some circumstances—continue to document and expose the poor treatment of animals on factory farms.