High court denies hearing for beef checkoff

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R-CALF now turns its attention to second lawsuit challenging USDA agreements made with state beef councils.

The Supreme Court of the United States denied R-CALF USA’s lawsuit against 13 state beef councils and the beef checkoff. The lawsuit is one of two currently being brought through the court system challenging what R-CALF claims is unconstitutional speech. 

Bill Bullard, R-CALF CEO, explains while the organizatoni is obviously disappointed that their effort to force reforms to the beef checkoff has ended in the first of two lawsuits, R-CALF is grateful for the reforms it did accomplish for U.S. cattle producers.

“Our objective in this case was to bring an end to the corrupt manner in which the beef checkoff program was being operated. Specifically, we set out to stop the U.S. Department of Agriculture from unconstitutionally compelling U.S. cattle producers to fund the private speech of private state beef councils,” Bullard says.

“We succeeded in that effort early in our case. In response to our lawsuit, the USDA took steps to assumed necessary control over the speech of the state beef councils identified in our case to prevent them from further expressing private messages with the money that cattle producers are mandated to pay into the program,” he continues.

The district court found that those corrective steps taken by the USDA effectively transformed the preliminary injunction R-CALF USA had initially won into the lasting outcome the group had sought – “an end to USDA’s allegedly unconstitutional government-compelled subsidy of speech.” Bullard adds having determined that R-CALF was the prevailing party in its request for a preliminary injunction, the district court awarded the group over $150,000 in legal fees.

R-CALF adds the district court importantly found that USDA’s decades-long conduct in operating the beef checkoff program prior to R-CALF USA’s litigation was not substantially justified and stated: “USDA should have known that the program that R-CALF challenged was unconstitutional . . .”  

Bullard notes another important reform won in this case was that the USDA promulgated formal rules that now allow cattle producers to opt out of funding the activities of their state beef council.

“We will now focus on achieving additional reforms in our second lawsuit that alleges the USDA violated the law when it entered into agreements with numerous state beef councils to assume control over those council’s messaging. More specifically, we allege the USDA ignored its legal obligation to conduct a formal rulemaking process before taking such action,” Bullard says.

Meanwhile, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association welcomed the court’s decision and called on R-CALF to drop further action challenging the beef checkoff.

“For too long we have allowed R-CALF and their attorneys to divide our industry and draw attention away from the important job of beef promotion and research. The Supreme Court’s rejection of R-CALF’s petition confirms the beef checkoff, and its overseers, are adhering to the letter and spirit of the laws that protect and guide producer investments in the program,” says NCBA CEO Colin Woodall.

NCBA intervened in the lawsuit in its early days to help defend state beef councils from R-CALF and their attorneys, who NCBA says falsely attacked state beef councils and the cattlemen and women who volunteer their time to support the industry as checkoff leaders. Multiple court decisions rejected these allegations and reaffirmed the work and direction of the beef checkoff and those who guide it.

“R-CALF has repeatedly attacked the beef checkoff, engaging lawyers who are closely aligned with extremist animal rights groups like PETA and others, in an attempt to further their efforts,” adds Woodall. “It’s time that our industry stands up to R-CALF and insists that they end these attacks on the beef checkoff and the volunteer cattle producers who direct it.”

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