Washington, D.C.—Free speech suffered a setback today when the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the federal program that finances the “Beef, it’s what’s for dinner” advertising campaign. Under the law, beef producers are required to subsidize advertising even when they disagree with its message. In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court concluded that the advertisements are the government’s own speech and thus not subject to First Amendment scrutiny. The Institute for Justice filed an amicus brief in the case on behalf of clients Joseph and Brenda Cochran, two Pennsylvania dairy farmers who are compelled to pay subsidies for the ubiquitous “got milk” advertising campaign under a similar federal law. The Cochrans successfully challenged that law, the Dairy Promotion Act, before the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.
“The First Amendment protects the right to dissent as much as the right to speak,” said Institute for Justice Senior Attorney Steve Simpson. “Unfortunately, the Supreme Court has just made it a lot easier for government to compel support for the ‘party line’ in a particular industry, and drown out any dissent.”
Simpson said, “The winners here are big special interests who can afford to lobby for laws that compel an entire industry to support one point of view. The small producers and innovators—who are almost by definition the minority in any industry—will suffer.”
The Supreme Court left one ray of hope for dissenting farmers. While it held that government can require them to finance advertisements, it indicated that government cannot attribute a message to particular individuals without their consent. Yet this is little consolation for small farmers without the means to clarify a government message.
“In the public’s mind, advertisements from ‘America’s Beef Producers’ are certainly going to be attributed to individual beef producers,” Simpson added. “Private businesses must be truthful in their advertising; shouldn’t government be held to the same standard?”