BOISE — The state of Idaho has filed a motion to dismiss a federal lawsuit that seeks to overturn recently passed legislation that makes it a crime to interfere with agricultural operations or secretly film them.
The motion was filed April 3 by the defendants, Gov. “Butch” Otter and Attorney General Lawrence Wasden.
The lawsuit was filed March 17 by a coalition of animal rights, civil liberties, food safety and other groups and individuals that want to stop Idaho’s Ag Security Act, which was signed into law Feb. 28 by Otter.
The legislation makes it a crime for someone to gain employment in an Idaho agricultural operation through deception with the intent to cause economic or other harm to that operation.
It also prohibits the making of an audio or video recording of the operation without the owner’s consent.
The motion to dismiss points out the lawsuit alleges the law is meant to “stifle political debate about modern agriculture by criminalizing all employment-based undercover investigations and criminalizing investigative journalism (or) whistle-blowing by employees….”
The plaintiffs attack “a statute that it wishes had passed,” the dismissal motion states. “The statute actually passed has nothing to do with speech or employee whistle-blowing.”
The motion said the statute actually prohibits certain forms of conduct, including entering an ag operation by force, threat or misrepresentation, with the intent to cause economic or other injury.
The lawsuit alleges the new law violates the free speech clause of the First Amendment and the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Boise attorney Dan Steenson, who crafted the legislation for the Idaho Dairymen’s Association, said it does neither.
“The act of photographing in and of itself does not constitute speech,” he said. And, he added, “The First Amendment doesn’t grant (someone permission) to obtain access to private property by wrongful means.”
The IDA will seek intervenor status in the lawsuit, Steenson said, and the dairy association will be involved one way or the other.
“The question for us, the Idaho Dairymen’s Association, is not whether we will participate but how,” he said.
IDA Executive Director Bob Naerebout said the law protects all of agriculture, not just the dairy industry, and he encouraged Food Producers of Idaho members April 3 to become involved in defending the law.
“I think it’s important for other agricultural groups to be involved,” he said.
According to a news release by the plaintiffs, “The lawsuit argues that Idaho’s law silences would-be whistleblowers by intimidating journalists and activists from exercising their First Amendment rights.”
The 52-page complaint alleges the law gags “speech that is critical of industrial agriculture, including speech that advances significant public interests in protecting Idahoans’ safety.”
Steenson said the arguments made in the lawsuit make it clear certain groups intend to further target farming operations in Idaho.
“There is a continuing real clear and present danger of this type of activity,” he said.