In July, the US District Court of Utah ruled the state failed to show the law was intended to safeguard the welfare of animals and employees from disease or injury. “Utah undoubtedly has an interest in addressing perceived threats to the state agricultural industry, and as history shows, it has a variety of constitutionally permissible tools at its disposal to do so,” Judge Robert Shelby said in his ruling. “Suppressing broad swaths of protected speech without justification, however, is not one of them.”
The state legislature passed the ban in 2012. The Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) sued the state the following year.
“Utah’s decision not to appeal its loss is a signal to other states that these unconstitutional Ag-Gag laws are indefensible,” Stephen Wells, executive director of the ALDF said in a statement. “Should Utah’s legislature try to pass a new ag-gag law to replace the last one, we’ll see them back in court.”
This ruling against Utah is the second time a federal court has ruled unconstitutional a ban on covert filming at agriculture operations. Idaho lawmakers passed a similar bill in March 2014. The bill, which was promoted by the state’s dairy industry, imposed fines and jail time to those caught taking hidden-camera videos at agricultural operations. But in August 2015, US District Court Chief Judge B. Lynn Winmill ruled the effect of the law would be to suppress speech by whistleblowers and undercover investigators. Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden appealed the ruling in December 2015.
In May 2016, the state was ordered to pay $249,875.08 in attorneys’ fees to PETA and other animal welfare groups.