The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!
Victory for Whistleblowers in North Carolina: Court Reinstates Constitutional Challenge to 'Anti-Sunshine' Law
The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled Tuesday that a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of North Carolina's anti-sunshine law can go forward, reversing the decision of the federal district court. The law was designed to deter whistleblowers and undercover investigators from publicizing information about corporate misconduct, and a coalition including animal welfare, press freedom, food safety, and government watchdog groups is challenging the law's constitutionality.
In its decision, the Fourth Circuit determined that plaintiffs' First Amendment rights were harmed if forced to "refrain[ ] from carrying out their planned investigations based on their reasonable and well-founded fear that they will be subject to significant exemplary damages." The fact that North Carolina has not yet enforced the anti-sunshine law and that the law imposes civil rather than criminal penalties does not prevent the plaintiffs from seeking to vindicate their constitutional rights. The state, the court writes, cannot pass a law that "by its terms [ ] prohibit[s] Plaintiffs' planned activities and [ ] subject[s] them to civil liability" and argue that the plaintiffs cannot sue to protect their freedom of speech.
The state legislature overrode a veto of the bill by Governor Pat McCrory in June 2015, and the law took effect in January 2016. Under the law, organizations and journalists who conduct undercover investigations, and individuals who expose improper or criminal conduct by North Carolina employers, are susceptible to suit and substantial damages if they make such evidence available to the public or the press.
The North Carolina law is part of a growing number of so-called 'ag-gag laws' passed by state legislators across the country. The bills, which are pushed by lobbyists for corporate agriculture companies, are an attempt to escape scrutiny over unsafe practices and animal abuses by threatening liability for those who expose these improper and, in many cases, illegal practices. North Carolina's version is written so broadly that it would also ban undercover investigations of all private entities, including nursing homes and daycare centers. The North Carolina law threatens to silence conscientious employees who witness and wish to report wrongdoing.
The plaintiffs in the suit, represented by Public Justice, are People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), the Center for Food Safety, Animal Legal Defense Fund, Farm Sanctuary, Food & Water Watch, the Government Accountability Project, Farm Forward, and the American Association for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).
This legal challenge is the first in the nation to make claims under both the U.S. Constitution and a state constitution.
The plaintiffs are represented in this appeal by David S. Muraskin and Leslie A. Brueckner of Public Justice in Washington, DC and Oakland, CA; Daniel K. Bryson and Jeremy Williams of Whitfield, Bryson & Mason LLP in Raleigh, NC; and in-house counsel for plaintiff organizations.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Charli Shield
At unsettling times like the coronavirus outbreak, it might feel like things are very much out of your control. Most routines have been thrown into disarray and the future, as far as the experts tell us, is far from certain.
By Elizabeth Henderson
Farmworkers, farmers and their organizations around the country have been singing the same tune for years on the urgent need for immigration reform. That harmony turns to discord as soon as you get down to details on how to get it done, what to include and what compromises you are willing to make. Case in point: the Farm Workforce Modernization Act (H.R. 5038), which passed in the House of Representatives on Dec. 11, 2019, by a vote of 260-165. The Senate received the bill the next day and referred it to the Committee on the Judiciary, where it remains. Two hundred and fifty agriculture and labor groups signed on to the United Farm Workers' (UFW) call for support for H.R. 5038. UFW President Arturo Rodriguez rejoiced:
By Julia Conley
A council representing more than 800,000 doctors across the U.S. signed a letter Friday imploring President Donald Trump to reverse his call for businesses to reopen by April 12, warning that the president's flouting of the guidance of public health experts could jeopardize the health of millions of Americans and throw hospitals into even more chaos as they fight the coronavirus pandemic.
By Melissa Kravitz Hoeffner
Over six gallons of water are required to produce one gallon of wine. "Irrigation, sprays, and frost protection all [used in winemaking] require a lot of water," explained winemaker and sommelier Keith Wallace, who's also a professor and the founder of the Wine School of Philadelphia, the largest independent wine school in the U.S. And water waste is just the start of the climate-ruining inefficiencies commonplace in the wine industry. Sustainably speaking, climate change could be problematic for your favorite glass of wine.