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U.S. appellate court declares beef checkoff unconstitutional

(Wednesday, July 9, 2003 -- CropChoice news) -- From a July 8 news release.

CONTACT: Shane Kolb, Meadow, SD, 605-244-7145

Jeri Lynn Bakken, WORC Staff, 701-376-7077

Today, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a federal judge’s ruling that the mandatory beef checkoff program is unconstitutional.

The decision upholds a June 2002 ruling by U.S. District Judge Charles Kornmann that the beef checkoff violates cattle producers’ First Amendment rights by compelling them to pay into a program with which they disagree. The lawsuit was brought by the Western Organization of Resource Councils, Livestock Marketing Association, and several individual cattle producers.

“Today’s decision upholds the rights of independent cattle producers who have been fighting this illegitimate check-off for years,” said Shane Kolb, Chair of WORC and a rancher from Meadow, SD.

The Eighth Circuit rejected arguments by the federal government and Cattlemen’s Beef Board that the beef checkoff program is immune from a First Amendment challenge because it is “government speech.” The Eighth Circuit said that the government was not speaking through the beef checkoff; it held, rather, that the beef checkoff compels individuals to pay for speech they disagree with, and therefore it violates the First Amendment.

The court also rejected arguments that only the portion of the program spent for advertising should be struck down, ruling that the “principal object” of the beef checkoff is the unconstitutional speech, so “no remaining aspects of the [Beef Promotion] Act can survive.”

The beef checkoff is a mandatory one-dollar fee ranchers pay every time they sell a head of cattle. Over 90% of national checkoff dollars are channeled through the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, a controversial private industry group.

WORC opposes any further delays in terminating the program. After the original district court ruling, which found the beef checkoff unconstitutional, USDA obtained a stay of the decision pending appeal.

This meant that beef checkoff collections would continue. USDA will likely ask that the beef checkoff be allowed to continue while it seeks further appeals.

WORC is a network of grassroots organizations from seven states that includes 8,250 members and 48 local community groups. WORC’s seven state organizations are: the Dakota Resource Council ( North Dakota ), Dakota Rural Action ( South Dakota ), the Idaho Rural Council ( Idaho ), the Northern Plains Resource Council ( Montana ), Oregon Rural Action ( Oregon ), the Powder River Basin Resource Council ( Wyoming ), and the Western Colorado Congress ( Colorado ).


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