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Utah's 'Ag Gag' Law -- Will the Motion to Dismiss Survive?

By Gabriella Khorasanee, JD on March 21, 2014 4:25 PM

Two University of Denver constitutional law professors have initiated two challenges to ag gag laws: one in Utah federal court, the other in Idaho.

Ag Gag Laws

What's an "ag gag" you ask? If you ask someone in the industry, they'll say that they are "agriculture protection laws." If you ask an animal rights activist, they'll say that the laws are "prohibitions [that] are deliberately designed to silence or "gag" anyone attempting to collect evidence," says Food Safety News. Seven states currently have ag gag laws in place, according to Food Safety News: Idaho, Utah, Missouri, Iowa, North Dakota, Montana and Kansas, with eleven states currently considering, or considered in the past, some type of ag gag law, according to the ACLU.

The Legal Challenge

The two professors are leading the charge of animal rights activists and journalists challenging Utah's ag gag law as unconstitutional for violating the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Because the law prohibits the unauthorized recording of "agricultural operations" plaintiffs claim the law discriminates based on content. They also allege the law is overbroad, preempted by Federal law, and violates the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause "because it lacks rational basis and is predicated on animus."

The Motion to Dismiss

Defendants made a motion to dismiss, challenging the complaint on three grounds: plaintiffs lack standing, plaintiffs fail to state a claim that their equal protection rights are violated because the statute is motivated by animus, and plaintiff failed to state a claim that the law is preempted. Plaintiffs filed their reply brief in December.

A hearing is scheduled for May 15 at the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah, according to Food Safety News. We're not sure if this case will get dismissed, as the state claim was before. The professors challenging the law are playing it smart and not putting all their eggs in one basket. If the professors are not successful here, they may have better luck in the Ninth Circuit where they are challenging the Idaho law, which they filed on Monday, says Food Safety News.

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