Today, eleven judges at the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit (Appeals Court) denied the request by the American Meat Institute, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, and other meatpacker lobby groups for an injunction that would have halted enforcement of the U.S. country-of-origin labeling (COOL) law.
While the decision to uphold the denial of the meatpacker-requested preliminary injunction was unanimous, the Appeals Court ruled 8 to 3 to reinstate the specific judgment by the original three-judge panel of the Appeals Court that decided in March that COOL did not violate the meatpacker lobby groups’ First Amendment free speech protections. The specific First Amendment question resolved by today’s ruling was whether the original panel had used the proper standard for determining when the Constitution allows compelled commercial speech.
“This ruling reinforces our long-held belief that COOL is fully compliant with our U.S. Constitution and our congressionally-passed COOL law,” said R-CALF USA CEO Bill Bullard.
R-CALF USA, the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association, Food & Water Watch, and the Western Organization of Resource Councils are intervenors in the original lawsuit filed against COOL by the meatpacker lobby and they jointly filed a friend of the court brief (amicus curie brief) with the appeals court in support of COOL.
The appeals court flatly rejected the meatpacker lobby’s assertion that the only purpose for COOL was to satisfy consumers’ ‘idle curiosity.” To the contrary, it found that COOL information “has an historical pedigree” and listed many other statutes that require COOL information on various products including the Tariff Acts of 1890 and 1930, the Wool Products Labeling Act of 1939, the Textile Fiber Products Identification Act, and the American Automobile Labeling Act.
In addition, the Appeals Court referenced statements by congressional members indicating that COOL served a food safety interest by enabling consumers to make purchasing decisions based on such factors as United States’ supervision of the entire production process for health and hygiene and by containing the market impact of a disease outbreak which COOL can do by enabling consumers to avoid products from countries where an outbreak may occur.
In his concurring opinion, Circuit Judge Brett Kavanaugh found that the government has a substantial interest in providing COOL information and stated that COOL “isjustified by the Government’s historically rooted interest in supporting American manufacturers, farmers, and ranchers as they compete with foreign manufacturers, farmers, and ranchers.”
Kavanaugh further opined that this substantial interest in COOL is obvious, even if the USDA did not articulate it during the litigation. He stated it was likely that USDA did not expressly articulate its “clear interest in supporting American farmers and ranchers in order to justify this law, apparently because of the international repercussions that might ensue.”
“We are pleased with this strong COOL decision and equally pleased that consumers will continue to be able to choose to purchase beef that is exclusively born, raised and slaughtered in the United States,” said South Dakota Stockgrowers Association’s President Bob Fortune.