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Friday, August 20, 2021

Tenth Circuit affirms injunction of Kansas ag gag law

My dog Rocky (2001-2019) at the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, Kansas, 2009
(RJ Peltz-Steele CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)
The Animal Legal Defense Fund has prevailed in an ag gag case in the Tenth Circuit, a three-judge panel upholding permanent injunction of the Kansas law.

I wrote recently about ag gag in the Eighth Circuit, where the court sustained a criminal prohibition on entering agricultural facilities on false pretenses.

The Kansas law was impermissibly viewpoint discriminatory, the Tenth Circuit panel held, in its requirement that the offender bear "intent to damage the enterprise conducted at the animal facility."  Because the law criminalized conduct exclusively with reference to the protected expression that would follow from entrance and recording on agricultural property, the court rejected the government's argument on appeal that the statute criminalized only conduct, not speech.

In dissent, U.S. Circuit Judge Harris Hartz—a member of the Judicial Education Advisory Board at the George Mason Law and Economics Center, participant in the Third Restatement of Agency, and once an academic—opined that merely retrenching the statutory definition to intentional deception would render the statute constitutional.  Judge Hartz and the majority found themselves in an R.A.V.-Wisconsin v. Mitchell tug of war, familiar to First Amendment scholars and law students, over whether the statutory intent requirement merely described mens rea or constituted impermissible viewpoint discrimination.

The dissent demonstrates what I wrote last week, that ag gag laws typically fail for overreach, but can be drafted constitutionally, thus, the mixed outcome in the Eighth Circuit.

The case is ALDF v. Kelly, No. 20-3082 (10th Cir. Aug. 19, 2021).  U.S. Circuit Judge Carolyn McHugh affirmed in the majority opinion, which was joined by her fellow Utahn Senior Judge Michael Murphy. Labor organizations, law professors, and a profusion of media organizations, including the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and Kansas press and sunshine advocates, lined up as amici against the Kansas law.

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