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The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit concludes that Idaho's criminalization of misrepresentations to enter a production facility, Idaho Code Ann. § 18-7042(1)(a), and ban on audio and video recordings of a production facility's operations, Idaho Code Ann. § 18-7042(1)(d), cover protected speech under the First Amendment and cannot survive constitutional scrutiny. In contrast, in accord with case law, Idaho's criminalization of misrepresentations to obtain records and secure employment is not protected speech under the First Amendment and do not violate the Equal Protection Clause. Idaho Code Ann. § 18-7042(1)(b)-(c).
In 2012, an animal rights activist went undercover to get a job at an Idaho dairy farm and secretly filmed the ongoing animal abuse there. Portions of the video were released and it drew national attention. The dairy farm owner then fired the abusive employees who were caught on camera, instituted operational protocols, and conducted an animal welfare audit at the farm. Local law enforcement authorities launched an investigation that culminated in the conviction of one of the employees for animal cruelty. In February 2014, Idaho enacted the Interference with Agricultural Production Law, Idaho Code § 18-7042. This law criminalized making misrepresentations to access an agricultural production facility as well as making audio and video recordings of the facility without the owner's consent and also to protect Idaho farmers. In March 2014, plaintiff Animal Legal Defense Fund filed this action against defendant Lawrence G. Wasden as Attorney General of Idaho, alleging that the purpose and effect of the statute were to stifle political debate about modern agriculture by criminalizing all employment-based undercover investigations and criminalizing investigative journalism, whistleblowing by employees, or other expository efforts that entail images or sounds. Plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment challenging the provisions of the law asserting violations of the First and Fourteenth Amendments was granted by the district court. Applying strict scrutiny to all challenged provisions, the district court resolved that even if the state's interests in privacy and property were compelling, the restrictions were neither narrowly tailored nor the least restrictive means available to protect those interests. The district court also determined that the challenged subsections violated the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause and failed rational basis review. Defendant appealed the district court's grant of summary judgment.
Did the court err in granting plaintiff's motion for summary judgment on its First Amendment and Equal Protection claims?
The court held that Idaho Code Ann. § 18-7042(1)(a)'s misrepresentation provision violated the First Amendment as it targeted false statements made to access an agricultural production facility since it was unnecessary to protect property rights and was overly broad. But the court ruled that since the misrepresentation prescription was not integral to protecting property rights, misrepresentation was to be stricken, leaving the remainder of the subsection intact. The court, however, held that Idaho Code Ann. § 8-7042(1)(b), which criminalized obtaining records of an agricultural production facility by misrepresentation, did not violate the First Amendment as it did not regulate constitutionally protected speech, nor did it violate the Equal Protection Clause as it did not rest exclusively on irrational prejudice. It was the Idaho Code Ann. § 18-7042(1)(d) or the Recordings Clause which the court ruled violated the First Amendment because it prohibited the recording of a defined topic. Lastly, Idaho Code Ann. § 18-7042(1)(c) which criminalized obtaining employment by misrepresentation with the intent to cause economic or other injury did not violate the First Amendment or the Equal Protection Clause. The court was sensitive to journalists' constitutional right to investigate and publish exposés on the agricultural industry because matters related to food safety and animal cruelty were of significant public importance. To conclude, the court upheld the validity of the provisions that fall within constitutional parameters, but strike down those limitations that impinge on protected speech. Hence, the judgment of the district court was affirmed in part and reversed in part.