The ASPCA Joins Lawsuit Challenging N.C. Anti-Whistleblower Law

February 25, 2016

The ASPCA Joins Lawsuit Challenging N.C. Anti-Whistleblower Law

Update—September 3, 2019: The ASPCA has filed for a motion for summary judgment.

The ASPCA has joined a group of animal-welfare, consumer-rights and public-interest groups challenging an unconstitutional North Carolina ag-gag law designed to silence whistleblowers and keep citizens in the dark about workplace wrongdoings, including horrific animal abuse on factory farms.

The ag-gag law, which went into effect on January 1, punishes organizations, journalists and individuals who expose employer misconduct to the public or press. Violators face stiff fines up to $5,000 for each day of unauthorized documentation. What’s more, the law is so far-reaching that it not only applies to the state’s factory farming facilities, but to all workplaces, including day care centers and nursing homes.

The ASPCA works to raise awareness of the inhumane conditions on large-scale, industrial farms and encourages the public to demand more humane standards to bring about the end of some of the worst farming practices. When North Carolina’s General Assembly passed House Bill 405 last spring, the ASPCA immediately launched a massive on-the-ground veto campaign targeted at Governor McCrory, who ultimately vetoed the bill. Despite public outcry, state lawmakers voted to override his veto of the ag-gag measure, forcing the bill into law.

“Because these operations are largely hidden from public view, access to information, photographs and video from employee whistleblowers is critical to our ability to share the truth about conditions on large-scale factory farms with consumers,” says Robert Hensley, the ASPCA’s Legal Advocacy Senior Counsel. “North Carolina’s ag-gag law effectively silences whistleblowers, and this has a substantial impact on both the ASPCA’s ability to continue its work and the public’s ability to know where their food comes from.”

The group of plaintiffs—which includes Public Justice, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the Center for Food Safety, Animal Legal Defense Fund, Farm Sanctuary, Food & Water Watch, and the Government Accountability Project—brought the lawsuit in January on the grounds that it violates due process, denies citizens equal protection, and abridges First Amendment rights of free speech, freedom of the press and the right to petition the government. Farm Forward has also recently joined the lawsuit.

This isn’t the first time legal action has been taken against anti-whistleblower laws. Last year, ag-gag legislation in Idaho was struck down by a federal court for violating the First and Fourteenth Amendments, and the federal court considering a challenge to Wyoming’s anti-whistleblower law has identified similar concerns regarding its constitutionality.

We will continue to work to bring more transparency to industrial farming practices and protect the public’s right to know what happens on factory farms. Stay tuned for updates and, if you haven’t yet, please sign our Open the Barns pledge to show that you stand against ag-gag!