North Carolina's Ag-Gag Law Ruled Unconstitutional By U.S. Federal Court
Litigation - Article Series from Articles Archive

FROM Will Doran,
June 2020

The federal district court judge noted that the Ag-Gag law didn’t just ban undercover animal rights videos, but also banned other activities, such as the reporting of crimes.

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A North Carolina law passed in 2015 in an attempt to stop animal-rights activists from posing as farm workers to secretly document conditions on farms has been ruled unconstitutional. The law, called an “ag-gag law” by critics, didn’t just deal with activists who went undercover as farm workers as part of efforts to expose animal abuse. It also created broader concerns — including that it would let people get away with committing crimes at work, or that it would stop journalists from holding powerful people and companies accountable.

The law allowed allowed any business — not limited to farms — to sue employees who recorded meetings or publicized internal documents. More than 20 media organizations, including companies like the now-merged Gannett and GateHouse chains that own many newspapers across North Carolina, filed a legal brief calling for the law to be overturned.

“If whistleblowers (and other would-be sources) are punished for documenting evidence of dangerous, illegal, or unethical activity that they encounter, journalists will not be able to do their jobs effectively,” their brief said.

The groups that led the lawsuit included People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, and the Animal Legal Defense Fund, or the ALDF. Both said they have done undercover animal rights videos in the past in North Carolina, and had plans to do more, but had to stop because of this law.

The federal district court judge who ruled in their favor, Thomas Schroeder, noted their argument that the law didn’t just ban such undercover animal rights videos but also banned other activities, “such as the reporting of crimes. They further argue that there is a realistic danger that the Act will compromise the First Amendment rights of parties not before the court.”

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