Idaho’s infamous new Ag-gag law allows big agriculture to hide in plain view, concealing unsafe and unhealthy practices on Idaho’s farms by threatening whistleblowers and the media with jail time. Just weeks after the Idaho legislature passed the law and Governor Otter signed it, the ACLU of Idaho joined with a coalition of other groups to challenge it in court. Predictably, the State of Idaho filed a “motion to dismiss” our lawsuit, asking the Court to refuse to look at our evidence that the law is unconstitutional.
Judge Lynn Winmill, the Chief Judge of Idaho’s federal district court, is handling the case. He heard arguments from both sides late in June to help him decide where the case will go next. If you were following the ACLU of Idaho’s Twitter feed on June 25th, you saw minute-by-minute live-tweeting about how the argument went. If you missed it, here’s what you need to know:
Judge Winmill clearly had already carefully considered the many briefs filed by numerous groups in the case. In addition to the broad coalition of plaintiffs, which—in addition to the ACLU of Idaho—includes the Animal Legal Defense Fund, PETA, the Center for Food Safety, Western Watersheds Project, Sandpoint Vegetarians, Idaho Concerned Area Residents for the Environment, and the Idaho Hispanic Caucus, an diverse collection of major allies have filed “friend of the court” briefs in our support. These include the AFL-CIO, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press together with 15 other media organizations, the Government Accountability Project, and the Center for Constitutional Rights. The judge seemed to focus on the important questions of just how much protected speech the Ag-gag law suppresses and how the public’s right to know impacts how the government regulates video-recording and whisteblower activity.
The judge suggested, at the end of the hearing, that the Court may issue a decision in this initial stage of the lawsuit sometime in July. If so, the decision in this case will come before the first arguments in the Utah lawsuit challenging that state’s new Ag-gag legislation. That could give our case groundbreaking, national impact, with the first court decision in an Ag-gag lawsuit of this kind.
Stay tuned on the ACLU of Idaho website and through your ACLU membership for news on this case as soon as we have it.