Conservationists Score Early Victory in challenge to Wyoming’s Data Censorship Statutes FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACTS: 
Travis Bruner, WWP, 208-720-5595, travis@westernwatersheds.org
Justin Pidot, 650-269-2240, jpidot@law.du.edu
Josh Mogerman, NRDC, 312-651-7909 or jmogerman@NRDC.org
Justin Marceau, jmarceau@law.du.edu
David Perle, PETA, 202-483-7382 ext. 2194, DavidP@peta.org
 
Conservationists Score Early Victory in challenge to Wyoming’s Data Censorship Statutes
 
Yesterday, the U.S. District Court of Wyoming denied the State of Wyoming’s attempt to throw out challenges to the state’s Data Censorship Statutes. Instead, Western Watersheds Project and a coalition of nonprofit organizations will be able to pursue litigation of the recent laws under the Free Speech and Right to Petition under the First Amendment and the Equal Protection under the Fourteenth Amendment.
 
The State of Wyoming tried to get the case against its odious statutes dismissed, but Judge Skavdahl found that the Data Censorship laws were improper and confusing. The court’s opinion ­­­noted that it is, “Difficult to conceive a permissible rationale for preventing the collection of resource data on lands which the public has the right to be upon.” The 2015 laws impose both criminal and civil liability on those who collect data on “open lands” in Wyoming, including photographic evidence of destruction to wildlife habitats or samples of impaired water quality. The use of the term “open land” was also an issue for the court, as it found these provisions ‘wholly irrelevant’ to the state’s purported interest in preventing trespass.
 
“The legal challenge withstood its first test in court, and I believe that the judge demonstrated a clear understanding of what is at stake if these laws are allowed to stand: selective enforcement, penalties for certain types of speech, and unequal protection for American citizens who seek to protect natural resources,” said Travis Bruner, Executive Director of Western Watersheds Project. 
 
“The State of Wyoming has tried to pretend its new laws are about trespass, but Judge Skavdhal recognized that Wyoming is doing something radically different,” stated Justin Pidot, attorney for Western Watersheds Project and professor of law at the University of Denver. “To my eye, the opinion expresses healthy skepticism about the constitutionality of laws designed to punish individuals who collect information about the health of public lands and communicate that information to the government.” 
 
“A law that makes sharing photos of Devil’s Tower or Yellowstone a punishable offense just isn’t consistent with Americans’ right to Free Speech,” said Michael Wall, senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council.
 
“This victory reinforces recent Ag-Gag wins litigated by ALDF in Idaho and Utah and tends to confirm that media activities like recording are protected by the First Amendment.”  Justin Marceau, of counsel ALDF and professor of law at the University of Denver. 
 
"Americans have a First Amendment right to expose illegal activities and cruelty to animals, such as was done in PETA's exposé of the wool industry, in which workers were seen beating, kicking, and killing sheep in Wyoming," says general counsel to PETA Jeff Kerr. "Free speech has prevailed against 'ag-gag' laws in 20 states so far, and PETA looks forward to seeing Wyoming's law fall, too."
 
Plaintiffs include Western Watersheds Project, National Press Photographers Association, Natural Resources Defense Council, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, and Center for Food Safety. Also assisting in representation on the case are attorneys Justin Marceau of Animal Legal Defense Fund, Leslie Brueckner of Public Justice, and Deepak Gupta.

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