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Johanns v. Livestock Marketing Ass’n

This case concerned whether the beef “checkoff” program, under which all beef producers are required by federal law to contribute funds to support “generic” beef advertising, violates the First Amendment. Beef producers who are outside the mainstream of the beef industry opposed the law because it compels them to support speech with which they disagree. The federal government defended the law on the theory that the beef advertising is “government speech” and is not subject to a First Amendment challenge.

In the U.S. Supreme Court, Public Citizen filed an amicus curiae brief supporting the opponents of the law. The brief argued that the beef advertising that is funded by the program (specifically, the “Beef, It’s What’s for Dinner” campaign) is not genuinely speech of the federal government, but is simply an industry effort to promote its product to consumers, and that the First Amendment does not permit the government to compel dissidents within an industry to support that kind of advertising.

On May 23, 2005, the Supreme Court decided the case in favor of the government. Adopting a very broad conception of government speech, the Court concluded that the marketing messages were the speech of the federal government and, therefore, immune from First Amendment challenge.