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After Sponsoring Arkansas’s Ag-Gag Law, Rep. DeAnn Vaught Refuses to Defend its Constitutionality

For Immediate Release: November 22, 2021

Media Contacts:
Mike Andrade-Heymsfield, media@aldf.org, 707-364-8387
Masha Vernik, mvernik@publicjustice.net, 305-542-8400

After Sponsoring Arkansas’s Ag-Gag Law, Rep. DeAnn Vaught  Refuses to Defend its Constitutionality

Rep. Vaught signs waiver revoking all rights for Prayer Creek Farm

 
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — The Arkansas state representative and factory farm owner who sponsored the state’s Ag-Gag law stated in a court filing on Friday that she waives her right and the right of her industrial hog farm, Prayer Creek Farm, to ever bring a legal action under that law against the plaintiffs. Rep. Vaught and her husband had previously been fighting in the courts to preserve their right to use Arkansas’ dangerous law, in their role as factory farm owners.

Rep. DeAnn Vaught and her husband Jonathan Vaught of Prayer Creek Farm are defendants alongside Peco Foods in a case challenging Arkansas’ Ag-Gag law. The law can only be enforced via private lawsuits brought by farm owners against those conducting undercover investigations. When Rep. DeAnn Vaught sponsored the bill, she claimed it was insulated from constitutional review. Now, the Vaughts are refusing to defend the law’s constitutionality. The case against the Vaughts has been brought on behalf of the Animal Legal Defense Fund, Animal Equality, Center for Biological Diversity, and Food Chain Workers Alliance, represented by Public Justice and in-house counsel, challenging the constitutionality of the law that prohibits undercover investigations that expose abuses at factory farms and other businesses throughout the state.

Enacted in 2017, Arkansas’s statute is far-reaching. It seeks to “gag” would-be whistleblowers and undercover activists by punishing them for investigating what goes on in industrial animal agriculture and all businesses within the state, essentially squelching free speech by allowing businesses to sue whistleblowers for thousands of dollars just for exposing the truth — a truth that factory farms often want to keep hidden from the public. Ag-Gag laws were originally designed to prevent the public from learning about animal cruelty and stop them from gaining key information about industrial agriculture’s contribution to environmental pollution and worker injustice. The Arkansas Ag-Gag law also bans undercover investigations of almost all private entities, including nursing homes and daycare centers.

On August 9 of this year, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit reversed a lower court’s February 2020 dismissal of a lawsuit challenging the Arkansas Ag-Gag law as unconstitutional, holding that animal advocates can prospectively challenge Ag-Gag laws that enable factory farms and private businesses to sue whistleblowers investigating corporate abuses. This ruling affirmed the public’s right to investigate and publicize factory farms’ practices and hold them accountable when the well-being of animals and workers is at stake.

Ag-Gag laws unconstitutionally silence whistleblowers and prohibit undercover investigations that expose some of the agricultural industry’s most egregious and harmful practices, including animal cruelty, environmental pollution, and worker abuse. Learn more about our fight against the Arkansas Ag-Gag law — and Ag-Gag laws across several states — on the Public Justice Food Project and Animal Legal Defense Fund websites.

“Rep. DeAnn Vaught, the sponsor of Arkansas’s Ag-Gag bill, has declined to defend the law’s constitutionality,” says Animal Legal Defense Fund Managing Attorney Cristina Stella. “It is shameful that an elected official would propose a law they know violates their constituents’ constitutional rights. Let this be a lesson to legislators — while Ag-Gag laws may be easy enough to pass, they are far more difficult to defend.”

“Transparency is central to a just, healthy, and thriving food system,” said Public Justice Food Project Litigation Director David Muraskin. “Undercover investigations are constitutionally protected. Rep. DeAnn Vaught has refused to defend a law targeting whistleblowers which she sponsored herself because it is so egregiously unconstitutional.”

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About the Animal Legal Defense Fund
Forty years of fighting for animals: The Animal Legal Defense Fund was founded in 1979 to protect the lives and advance the interests of animals through the legal system. To accomplish this mission, the Animal Legal Defense Fund files high-impact lawsuits to protect animals from harm; provides free legal assistance and training to prosecutors to assure that animal abusers are punished for their crimes; supports tough animal protection legislation and fights harmful legislation; and provides resources and opportunities to law students and professionals to advance the emerging field of animal law. For more information, please visit aldf.org.

About the Public Justice Food Project

The Public Justice Food Project is the only legal project in the country that is focused solely on dismantling the structures that enable the consolidation of corporate power and extractive practices in our food system and supporting a vision of animal agriculture that is regenerative, humane, and owned by independent farmers. It envisions a future where our food chain results in healthy, empowered communities and sustainable livelihoods and a just animal agriculture system that is transparent and accountable to people, not profit.