Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund United Stockgrowers of America v. Vilsack, No. 20-35453 (9th Cir. 2021)Annotate this Case
The Beef Promotion and Research Act of 1985 imposes a $1 assessment, or “checkoff,” on each head of cattle sold in the U.S. to fund beef consumption promotional activities. The Secretary of Agriculture oversees the program. The Montana Beef Council and other qualified state beef councils (QSBCs), receive a portion of the checkoff assessments to fund promotional activities and may direct a portion of these funds to third parties for the production of advertisements and other promotional materials. R-CALF's members include cattle producers who object to their QSBCs’ advertising campaigns. In 2016, the Secretary entered into memoranda of understanding (MOUs) with QSBCs which granted the Secretary preapproval authority over promotions and allowed the Secretary to decertify noncompliant QSBCs, terminating their access to checkoff funds. The Secretary must preapprove all contracts to third parties and any resulting plans. QSBCs can make noncontractual transfers of checkoff funds to third parties for promotional materials which do not need to be pre-approved. Plaintiffs contend that the distribution of funds under these arrangements is an unconstitutional compelled subsidy of private speech.
The Ninth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the federal defendants after holding that R-CALF had associational standing and direct standing to sue QSBCs. The speech generated by the third parties for promotional materials was government speech, exempt from First Amendment scrutiny. Given the breadth of the Secretary's authority, third-party speech not subject to pre-approval was effectively controlled by the government.