Beef checkoff ruling could impact cotton challenges

The U.S. Supreme Court ruling that the Beef Promotion Act does not violate the First Amendment is “great news” for beef producers and cotton farmers alike, the chairman of the National Cotton Council said.

In a 6-3 decision handed down May 23, the Court overturned a ruling by the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, saying the Beef Promotion and Research Act of 1985 is exempt from First Amendment scrutiny because it constitutes government speech.

“This decision should clarify the law regarding the constitutionality of agricultural research and promotion programs like the Cotton Research and Promotion Program,” said Woods Eastland, a cooperative marketing executive from Greenwood, Miss., and NCC chairman.

“The cotton research and promotion program spurred a remarkable turn-around in the retail use of cotton textiles in the United States. U.S. cotton producers want to promote the product they produce.”

The cotton checkoff program, which generates $60 million for research and promotion activities, is currently involved in two legal challenges, both of which have been held in abeyance while the beef checkoff case was reviewed by the Supreme Court.

In the first, a group of importers filed a lawsuit challenging provisions of the Cotton Research and Promotion Act requiring them to contribute to the checkoff fund. The U.S. Court of International Trade in New York, which is hearing the case, granted a stay until the Supreme Court issued its decision.

The second involves an administrative complaint filed by a single importer with USDA, which oversees all producer-funded checkoff programs.

“Obviously, this is a very important decision for us,” said Craig Brown, vice president of producer affairs with the Cotton Council. “By saying that the government speech defense is valid, it should strengthen our case. But whether it will help resolve the case in our favor remains to be seen.”

Brown said the Cotton Council has met with attorneys involved in the challenges, but he couldn’t predict how soon the cases might be taken up again.

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