Amicus Brief Filed In Support of Challenge to Arkansas's Anti-Boycott Law

Today my office filed an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief in the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals on behalf of the Center for Constitutional Rights and Palestine Legal in support of the challengers to Arkansas’s unconstitutional anti-boycott law. The law requires contractors who want to do business with the state to pledge not to boycott Israel. As the brief explains, the Arkansas law is part of a broad effort to punish advocacy of Palestinian rights and those who seek boycotts, divestment, and sanctions against the Israeli government, in violation of the First Amendment.

Full press release below and available here:

Rights Groups Urge Court to Overturn Decision on Arkansas Anti-Boycott Law

Contact: press@ccrjustice.org

April 16, 2019 – Today, the Center for Constitutional Rights, Palestine Legal, and the Law Office of Matthew Strugar filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals in support of a lawsuit seeking to strike down an Arkansas law that requires government contractors to pledge not to boycott Israel. The lawsuit and the amicus brief in support of it argue that the law violates the First Amendment. The filing situates the Arkansas law as part of a broader effort to suppress speech in support of Palestinian human rights.

“Arkansas can’t suppress boycotts for Palestinian rights just because the government disagrees with the message that Palestinians deserve freedom and equality,” said Palestine Legal Senior Staff Attorney Radhika Sainath. “The Court of Appeals has an opportunity to fix this and ensure that there is no First Amendment exception when it comes to Palestine.”

The American Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuit on behalf of The Arkansas Times, which lost substantial ad revenue after its publisher refused to sign the no-boycott pledge on the principle that contractors should not be compelled to speak against boycotts, divestments, and sanctions (BDS) for Palestinian rights, even though the newspaper itself takes no position on BDS. 

A U.S. district court judge dismissed the ACLU’s lawsuit in January, deviating from two other courts that enjoined similar laws in Arizona and Kansas because boycotts for Palestinian rights are protected by the First Amendment, just as the Supreme Court recognized in the landmark NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware with regard to peaceful civil rights boycotts of white businesses in Mississippi. In its appeal, the ACLU argued that the district court’s decision, if allowed to stand, would set a dangerous precedent by allowing state legislatures to punish disfavored viewpoints.

“Anti-BDS laws are just another desperate attempt to suppress demands for equality for Palestinians,” said Center for Constitutional Rights Deputy Legal Director Maria LaHood. “They not only violate the Constitution, they are also on the wrong side of history.”   

The amicus brief provides context for the court, making clear that Arkansas’ anti-boycott law and similar measures in 26 other states are part of a broader nationwide effort by Israel advocacy groups to suppress speech in support of Palestinian rights. Palestine Legal and the Center for Constitutional Rights have documented censorship efforts on college campuses, against public libraries, and at other institutions. Advocates for Palestinian human rights have lost jobs and incomes and faced harassment for their advocacy. The clear intent of the legislation and other censorship efforts is to silence viewpoints in support of Palestinian rights.

Read the Center for Constitutional Rights and Palestine Legal’s amicus brief filed today here.

Palestine Legal protects the civil and constitutional rights of people in the U.S. who speak out for Palestinian freedom. Learn more at palestinelegal.org.

The Law Office of Matthew Strugar is a First Amendment and protesters’ rights law firm based in Los Angeles, California. Learn more at matthewstrugar.com/.

The Center for Constitutional Rights works with communities under threat to fight for justice and liberation through litigation, advocacy, and strategic communications. Since 1966, The Center for Constitutional Rights has taken on oppressive systems of power, including structural racism, gender oppression, economic inequity, and governmental overreach. Learn more at ccrjustice.org.

Federal Court Orders Iowa to Pay $180,000 Over Unconstitutionl Ag Gag Law

Earlier this year, a federal court ruled that Iowa’s Ag Gag Law, which made it a crime to go undercover investigations at factory farms and other animal agricultural facilities to expose cruelty, was unconstitutional. The court struck down the law under the First Amendment. A coalition of animals rights, food safety, and workers’ rights organization brought the case.

Now the Court has ordered the state to pay $181,623.13 to the attorneys who brought who the case. Federal law allows for courts to order states and local governments to pay the challengers’ legal fees if the court finds that the government’s actions were unconstitutional.

Together with the fees awarded after successfully striking down Utah and Idaho’s Ag Gag laws, these three states have been ordered to collectively pay for $600,000 for enacting and defending these unconstitutional laws.

We currently have cases pending against Kansas and North Carolina’s Ag Gag laws.

Federal Court Declares Iowa Ag-Gag Law Unconstitutional

We defeated another Ag-Gag law!

Today the federal court for the Southern District of Iowa granted summary judgment to our clients in our challenge to the Iowa Ag-Gag law and struck down the law as unconstitutional under the First Amendment.

Ag-Gag laws seek to criminalize undercover investigations at factory farms and other animal agricultural facilities by making it illegal to take videos or photographs inside such facilities or failing to disclose one’s affiliation with an animal rights organization when applying for a job.

As the court recognized, Iowa passed its law in response to media attention focused on the horrific cruelty in Iowa’s factory farms:

For example, in 2011, an undercover investigation at Iowa Select Farms produced reports of workers hurling small piglets onto a concrete floor. Another investigation at Iowa’s Sparboe Farms, documented reported mistreatment of hens and chicks. And yet another, conducted by PETA, exposed workers at a Hormel Foods supplier in Iowa “beating pigs with metal rods,” “sticking clothespins into pigs’ eyes and faces, and a super- visor kicking a young pig in the face, abdomen, and genitals to make her move while telling the investigator, ‘You gotta beat on the bitch. Make her cry.’”

Iowa is one of the largest states for industrial animal agriculture. Iowa is by far the country’s biggest producer of pigs raised for meat and hens raised for eggs. More than 20 million pigs and 45 million egg-laying hens are raised in Iowa each year, with tens of millions more cows, chickens, turkeys, and goats raised in the state. The vast majority of these animals are raised on factory farms, subject to intensive confinement, routine mutilations, and deplorable conditions.

With this ruling, animal right advocates should be free once again to inform the public of the horrific cruelty of factory farming.

This victory comes on the heels of our victories against Ag-Gag laws in Utah and Idaho, and we have pending challenges against Ag-Gag laws in Kansas and North Carolina.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are the Animal Legal Defense Fund, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, Bailing Out Benji, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and the Center for Food Safety. In addition to my office, they are represented by the Animal Legal Defense Fund, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Iowa, and Public Justice.

Animal Rights Groups File Challenge to Kansas Ag-Gag Law

Today, my office, along with the Animal Legal Defense Fund, the Center for Food Safety, Public Justice, and Kansas advocacy groups Shy 38 and Hope Sanctuary, filed a lawsuit challenging Kansas’s Ag-Gag law. Like Ag-Gag laws in other states, the Kansas law criminalizes undercover investigations at factory farms and slaughterhouses, silencing animal rights activists and ensuring animal cruelty, unsafe food safety practices, environmental hazards, and inhumane working conditions go unreported. The lawsuit contends that Kansas’s Ag Gag law violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

My office, along with other members of the coalition, have already been successful in striking down Ag-Gag laws in Idaho and Utah as unconstitutional, and we are litigating challenges to similar laws in Iowa and North Carolina.

Undercover investigations are one of the few ways for the public to receive critical information about animal agriculture operations. A 2012 consumer survey conducted by Purdue University’s Department of Agricultural Economics and Department of Animal Sciences found that the public relies on the information gathered and presented by animal protection groups and investigative journalists more than they rely on industry groups and the government combined.

View the complaint here.

Lawsuit filed for ACLU for Info on ICE Practice of Posing as Local Police

Today my office filed a lawsuit on behalf of the ACLU of Southern California seeing seeks records concerning Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents’ practice of posing as local police departments investigating non-immigration related crimes, wearing misleading uniforms, and engaging in other deceptive conduct to conceal their identity. Through these ruses, ICE agents have attempted to gain an individual’s consent to enter their home or other private property without a warrant.

This practice has been widely reported in the media.

The ACLU of Southern California submitted a Freedom of Information Act Request seeking information related to ICE agents’ practice of misrepresenting or concealing their identity when conducting enforcement actions. But after more than eight months, they still haven’t received any responsive documents.

We are suing to force ICE to force it to provide these records. Read the complaint here.

Maryland Department of Transportation Sued for Censoring Animal Rights Message

Another day, another transit company trying to silence a White Coat Waste advertisement.

Today my office filed suit against the Maryland Department of Transportation and related entities for refusing to run White Coat Waste’s advertisement criticizing the Beltsville USDA lab’s practice of killing six-month-old kittens in medical experiments.

Using documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, White Coat Waste showed that the USDA laboratory breeds up to 100 kittens a year, feeds them Toxoplasma-infected raw meat, harvests their feces, and then kills and incinerates the kittens.

Because this kitten slaughter is funded by taxpayers, White Coat Waste attempted to run this ad on Maryland trains and buses:

Kitten_Slaughterhouse_Ads_WCW_22x21_r1.jpg

The transit company rejected the ad citing a policy against “political” ads. But after White Coat Waste made a public records request and discovered that the transit company did not prohibit “political” ads, the transit company changed its story and claimed it rejected the ad because it “depicts violence.”

Because the transit company is a government entity, it must follow the First Amendment. By discriminating against advertisers like White Coat Waste based on their identity or message and allowing one side of a debate to get its message out while silencing the other side, the transit company is violating the First Amendment.

Read the complaint here.

Law Office of Matthew Strugar Obtains Dismissal for Activists Sued Over Social Media Post

When two young women saw a lady in a white Mercedes telling a street vendor she was going to call the police if he continued to sell in Orange County park, the young women filmed the interaction and published the video on social media. To Lissette Martinez Gutierrez and Carolina Vega, they were seeing yet another instance of person of color being harassed for everyday activity, whether it is barbecquing, sitting in a Starbucks, swimming in a pool, or renting an AirBNB. So they posted the video on Facebook with the caption: “This xenophobic lady kept harassing the elotero for selling at the park.”

For this, the two young women were hit with a lawsuit alleging that they defamed the woman in the Mercedes and seeking one million dollars in damages.

My office represented the two women. We filed an anti-SLAPP motion—a motion that asks the court to dismiss a lawsuit that is brought to retaliate against people who are expressing their First Amendment rights. We argued that the women were expressing their free speech rights on an issue of public interest and were well within their rights to say what they said.

Today the court dismissed the lawsuit and ordered that the plaintiff pay the young women’s attorney’s fees. Read the order here.

If you find yourself sued for exercising your free speech rights, contact my office.  

Washington Post Covers Lawsuit Seeking Information on Cruel Kitten Experiments at USDA

Today the Washington Post covered a new Freedom of Information Act lawsuit that my office filed on behalf of White Coast Waste Project seeking to compel the Department of Agriculture to provide information on cruel experiments to kittens.

Using documents obtained through an earlier FOIA request, White Coat Waste showed that the USDA Agricultural Research Service laboratory breeds up to 100 kittens a year, feeds the 2-month-old kittens Toxoplasma-infected raw meat, collects their feces for 2-3 weeks to harvest the parasite for use in other experiments, and then kills and incinerates the kittens.

White Coat Waste requested to protocols governing these experiments, but the USDA has, to date, refused to provide them. So we’re suing for them.

In response to White Coat Waste’s exposé of these experiments, Representative Mike Bishop (R-Mich.) and Representative Jimmy Panetta (D-Calif.) introduced the Kittens in Traumatic Testing Ends Now (KITTEN) Act (H.R. 5780), aimed at ending USDA testing that causes pain to cats or kittens.

Tell Congress to pass the bipartisan KITTEN Act to defund these deadly taxpayer-funded experiments and urge USDA to adopt out the cats.

Join Us to Demand an End to Inhumane Conditions at Detention Centers

Last May, eight asylum seekers began a peaceful hunger strike to call attention to the inhumane conditions at Adelanto Detention Center.  In return, they were violently assaulted, pepper sprayed, and thrown in segregation, where they were denied access to their families, advocates and lawyers.  Those young men have now filed a civil rights lawsuit against ICE, GEO Group, and the City of Adelanto.  Join us at this very important press event to support the men, to uplift their voices, and to make clear to ICE and this Administration that the incarceration of migrants -- and the inhumane separation of parents and children -- has to end.

WHAT:    Press conference & rally announcing the lawsuit

WHEN:   Tuesday, July 24, 2018

TIME:     10AM (start gathering at 9:30AM)

WHERE: 300 N. Los Angeles (the steps in front of the Federal Building)

WHO:    Adelanto Hunger Strikers and their civil rights attorneys, plus: human rights attorneys, immigration advocates, faith leaders, asylum seekers, unions and workers

If your organization would like to endorse this event and be named on the press materials, please  let us know.

Contacts:

Rachel Steinback (civil rights attorney): SteinbackLaw@gmail.com // 213.537.5370

Guillermo Torres (CLUE):  gtorres@cluejustice.org // 323.228.2753

A Victory Against Mississippi's Homophobic "Sodomy" Law

In response to a lawsuit filed by my office and the Center for Constitutional Rights, the state of Mississippi has agreed to remove 29 people from its sex offender registry who were forced to register under the state’s archaic and homophobic “sodomy” statute.

Fifteen years ago, the Supreme Court declared that laws that criminalize oral or anal sex (so-called “sodomy” laws) were an unconstitutional intrusion on the privacy, dignity, and autonomy protected by the Fourteenth Amendment. Despite this ruling, a handful of stubborn states still cling to their unconstitutional sodomy laws.

Mississippi is one of those states. Its law (Mississippi Code Annotated § 97-29-59) makes it a crime simply to have oral or anal sex. And Mississippi requires people who are convicted of having oral or anal sex to register as sex offenders—displaying their pictures and home addresses on the sex offender website and preventing them from accessing many parks, beaches, and even their own children’s schools. We filed suit to strike down the sodomy statute and the requirement that people with sodomy convictions be forced to register.

Mississippi’s sex offender law also requires people with convictions from other states to register in Mississippi if either 1) they were required to register in the state of the conviction; or 2) if their crime would have been registerable if it took place in Mississippi.

Neighboring Louisiana treats prostitution for oral or anal sex differently from prostitution for vaginal sex. While prostitution involving vaginal sex does not require registration, Louisiana mandated registration for anyone convicted under its Crimes Against Nature by Solicitation (CANS) law—i.e., exchanging oral or anal sex for money. The Center for Constitutional Rights successfully challenged that registration requirement in Louisiana, leading Louisiana to remove hundreds of people (primarily poor women of color) from its sex offender registry.

But when anyone with a Louisiana CANS conviction moved to Mississippi, Mississippi required them to register. After explaining to the state that CANS was no longer registerable in Louisiana, Mississippi asserted that it was not requiring registration because the original state required it, but that the crime would have been registerable if it took place in Mississippi because CANS convictions were equivalent to a conviction under Mississippi’s sodomy law.  

While we continue to fight to strike down Mississippi’s sodomy law and the registration requirement for sodomy convictions, we have reached an agreement with state to remove everyone who is registered for CANS convictions from the sex offender registry. The state also agreed to not require registration for CANS convictions in the future.

This victory lifts an enormous burden from the lives of these 29 people, many of whose convictions are decades old. They no longer have to report every movement to the state. Their pictures and addresses will be removed from registry. They will hopefully escape the intense social stigma that accompanies registration. Mothers and grandmothers will be able to go to parks and beaches with their children and grandchildren.

You can read the order approving the settlement here.