U.S. Supreme Court listens to beef checkoff arguments


WASHINGTON – The national beef checkoff seesaw is balanced before the U.S. Supreme Court.
The court heard oral arguments Dec. 8 in a case challenging the constitutionality of the national beef checkoff program.
The U.S. Department of Justice represented USDA and the Cattlemen’s Beef Board and across the aisle, Harvard School of Law professor Laurence H. Tribe argued for the Livestock Marketing Association’s position.
Plaintiffs in the case are the Livestock Marketing Association, the Western Organization of Resource Councils, and three individuals in an earlier petition.
First Amendment. Their lawsuit calls for ending the checkoff program on the grounds that it violates some cattle producers’ First Amendment rights by forcing them to pay for beef promotion messages with which they do not agree.
Specifically, plaintiffs have complained that the checkoff promotes beef, in general, rather than just U.S. beef. Importers also pay the checkoff assessment.
In addition to USDA and the Cattlemen’s Beef Board, defendants include the Nebraska Cattlemen, leading a group of producers as interveners in the case.
“We are confident that the checkoff is constitutional, and arguments made in the courtroom today only reinforced that confidence,” said Beef Board Chairman Nelson Curry, who attended the hearing.
Curry said the court’s decision could come down anytime between now and the end of June.
A Livestock Marketing Association statement called the arguments “lively and wide-ranging.”
Background. In July 2003, a panel of three judges at the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a June 2002 ruling by District Court Judge Charles Kornmann deeming the program unconstitutional.
At the same time this case was unfolding, however, U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull of Montana used the same transcript in a similar case as Judge Kornmann used in the Livestock Marketing Association suit and came up with a different ruling – declaring the checkoff constitutional.
That case in the Ninth Circuit was brought by Montana ranchers Stephen and Jeanne Charter and has been appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which has set aside its review until the Supreme Court rules in this case.
$1 per head. Congress created the Beef Checkoff Program in the 1985 farm bill. In a 1988 referendum, 79 percent of the nation’s cattle producers and importers voted in favor of making their $1-per-head checkoff contributions mandatory.
Through the program, cattlemen pool their money to conduct promotion, research, education and information programs aimed at building demand for beef here and abroad and, as a result, increasing their opportunities for profit.


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