Supreme Court Affirms Beef Checkoff Program

In a 6-3 vote today, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Beef Promotion and Research Act of 1985, overturning lower court decisions by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit and the U.S. District Court for Montana, which had ruled the measure unconstitutional.

The justices ruled that the mandatory $1-per-head assessments on cattle support a valid program of “government speech,” directed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

The higher court’s ruling bolsters the case for the pork checkoff, which also had a lower court declare that program unconstitutional, as well as promotion fees assessed on milk, eggs, cotton and soybeans.

Observes Dave Culbertson, president of the National Pork Board: “The court’s decision is a victory for all commodity programs, including the pork checkoff. We don’t know yet whether the court will apply exactly the same decision to the pork case. However, Congress created the two programs at the same time in very similar fashion.

“In this case, it means that checkoff funds can continue to fund promotional programs such as ‘Pork. The Other White Meat’ to help them remain competitive in the national and international marketplaces.

“We look forward to the conclusion of the pork case as well, so all producers can come together to move the industry forward and to focus precious industry resources on improving the marketplace for pork,” adds Culbertson. The American Farm Bureau Federation and 50 other organizations backed the beef checkoff program, and credited it with stopping the 20-year erosion in demand for beef.

Writing for the Supreme Court, Justice Antonin Scalia rejected claims the fees were an illegal “compelled subsidy.” He supported the contention that the beef ads are government speech. “The message set out in the promotions is from beginning to end the message established by the federal government,” he wrote.

Joining Scalia’s opinion were Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Justices Sandra Day O’Connor, Clarence Thomas and Stephen G. Breyer. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote a separate opinion agreeing with the majority. Justices Anthony Kennedy, David Souter and John Paul Stevens dissented.