PHILADELPHIA (Feb. 26, 2004) — In a unanimous decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has declared the milk industry's “Got Milk?” checkoff campaign a violation of First Amendment rights.
Pennsylvania dairy farmers Joseph and Brenda Cochran sued in 2002, claiming their mandatory payments to fund the milk marketing campaign abrogated their rights of free speech. A federal district court judge rejected their argument, but the Third Circuit reversed the lower court.
This makes the third industry checkoff program to be overturned in federal court in the past few months, after those for pork and beef. It also makes it all the less likely the tire industry will have its own checkoff program someday, according to Donald B. Shea, president of the Rubber Manufacturers Association.
“It certainly creates a giant concern that these programs are coming under judicial scrutiny, and that three of them have been invalidated by three different federal appeals courts,” he said. “What you need (for a checkoff program to work) is voluntary unanimity,” Mr. Shea said.
The executive committees of both the RMA and the Tire Industry Association are meeting on the checkoff issue, and the legal counsels for both associations are studying the Third Circuit ruling, according to Becky MacDicken, TIA government affairs director. “We don't know what will happen, but we're still hoping to gear our (checkoff) program in a way that it won't be constitutionally challenged,” Ms. MacDicken said.