Federal Judge Declares Utah Ag Gag Law Unconstitutional

Today the United States District Court for the District of Utah declared Utah Code § 76-6-112, commonly known as Utah's "Ag Gag Law," unconstitutional under the First Amendment. The Ag Gag Law was part of a movement among agricultural states to stop undercover investigations by animal rights groups that expose the common, casual, and pervasive violence to animals who are raised for food.

Like other state's ag gag laws, Utah's made it a crime to obtain employment at an animal agricultural facility and then film the mistreatment that the investigator saw with his or her own eyes. It also made it a crime to obtain employment at an animal agricultural facility through misrepresentation, including when an applicant refused to out himself or herself as an animal rights activist as part of the application process.

PETA, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, and Salt Lake City activist Amy Meyer challenged the law in 2014 soon after Meyer was charged with violating the law for standing on a public road and filming the operation of a nearby slaughterhouse. My office, along with Matthew Liebman at the Animal Legal Defense Fund, professors Justin Marceau and Alan Chen at the University of Denver College of Law, and Salt Lake City civil rights attorney Stewart Gollan represented the plaintiffs.

The state attempted to justify the law by saying it was needed to protect the biosecurity of animal agricultural operations and was even needed to protect animals against investigators who could be distracted by their recording equipment and harm the animals in the process. The court rejected these justifications and found the law was tailored perfectly to preventing exposés by animal rights activists, not the state's post-hoc justifications.

The court found that the state has a variety of means available to protect animal agriculture, but "suppressing broad swaths of protected speech without justification, however, is not one of them."

Utah's Ag Gag Law is the second to fall. In 2015, my office, along with many of the same attorneys and organizations, won our case challenging Idaho's ag gag law on similar grounds.