U.S. District Court Rules That Kansas’ Ag-Gag Law Which Bans Undercover Investigations At Slaughterhouses Is Unconstitutional

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This past weekend, the U.S. District Court of Kansas struck down nearly all components of Kansas’ “Ag-Gag” law for violating the First Amendment. The law, which gagged free speech by banning undercover investigations at factory farms and slaughterhouses, has deterred undercover investigations at animal facilities, including factory farms, for nearly three decades.

In December 2018, a coalition of animal, environmental, and community advocacy groups filed the lawsuit challenging the law’s constitutionality. Led by Animal Legal Defense Fund, the coalition includes the Center for Food Safety, and Kansas-area farmed animal organizations Shy 38, Inc. and Hope Sanctuary.

In Saturday’s decision, the court denied Kansas’s motion to have the case thrown out and granted most of the coalition’s motion for summary judgment, thus barring the state from enforcing the Ag-Gag law. The court’s decision left intact only the portions of the law criminalizing physical damage to animals and facilities, and the civil remedy for violations. The court found that the plaintiffs lacked standing to challenge the provisions, but otherwise delivered a decisive victory to the coalition. Federal courts have also struck down Ag-Gag laws in Idaho, Iowa, and Utah as unconstitutional.

“For 30 years, Kansas lawmakers have suppressed whistleblowers from investigating cruel conditions on factory farms with this unconstitutional law,” Animal Legal Defense Fund’s Executive Director Stephen Wells, said in a statement over the weekend. “Today’s decision is a victory for the millions of animals raised for meat on factory farms.”

Enacted in 1990, the Kansas Ag-Gag law was the oldest in the United States. Kansas is a major agricultural producer with the third-most cows of any state, and its Ag-Gag law has successfully prevented whistleblowers from investigating the inhumane conditions that millions of pigs, cows, and chickens endure.

It is critical that investigations not be suppressed. The public relies on undercover investigations to expose illegal and cruel practices on factory farms and slaughterhouses. No federal law governs the conditions in which farmed animals are raised, and laws addressing slaughter and transport are laxly enforced. Undercover investigations are therefore the primary avenue through which the public receives information about animal agriculture operations. Investigations also reveal health and worker safety violations. Factory farms and slaughterhouses are major polluters, so undercover investigations are important for learning about violations of environmental laws as well.

Litigation against North Carolina’s and Arkansas’ Ag-Gag laws is ongoing.

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