In a huge win for animals and workers, the Supreme Court of the United States has rejected an appeal by Kansas to review—in the hope that the court would revive—a harmful ag-gag law. First struck down by lower courts, the law made it a crime for anyone to record footage or take photographs inside slaughterhouses or other animal agriculture facilities without the owner’s consent.
Ag-gag laws, which can criminalize undercover investigations, are harmful to animals, workers, and public safety. Undercover investigations are necessary to expose the horrific conditions farmed animals around the world often endure. Ag-gag laws can also prevent workers from reporting abuse they witness, of both animals and people, as well as food-safety violations.
The Supreme Court justices chose to leave in place rulings by lower courts that invalidated several parts of the oldest ag-gag law in the United States, which Kansas enacted in 1990. Last year, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit ruled that the Kansas ag-gag law stifled free speech and thus violated the First Amendment, stating:
And the statute is not limited to false speech lacking constitutional protection. Instead, it punishes entry with the intent to tell the truth on a matter of public concern.
The Fight Against Ag-Gag
Ag-gag laws are being challenged all over the country. Last month, a federal judge struck down an Iowa law that made certain types of entry into agricultural facilities punishable with up to a year of jail time. Judge Stephanie Rose said that the First Amendment did not allow viewpoint discrimination of the type that the Iowa law restricted, saying:
To be sure, some of the investigations may violate other laws. However, the state of Iowa may not single out individuals for special punishment based on their critical viewpoint of agricultural practices, which they have sought to do.
In June of last year, Mercy For Animals joined forces with animal advocates and a farmer to help defeat ag-gag legislation in Texas. This was a huge win. In Texas, a state with significant animal agriculture interests, ag-gag bills are famously difficult to fight. Mercy For Animals testified in person before the Texas House Agriculture and Livestock Committee in opposition to the bill. The Texas-based farmer we collaborated with also testified.
Whistleblowers at factory farms are imperative to exposing conditions that jeopardize animal welfare, public health, and worker safety.
— Mercy For Animals (@MercyForAnimals) March 27, 2021
Laws similar to those in Kansas and Iowa have been struck down in Utah and Wyoming, and more lawsuits are pending in Arkansas, North Carolina, and Iowa. This progress is possible thanks to animal advocates who make their voices heard. Interested in fighting for animal protection legislation? Learn more about our government affairs work here.