Checkoff denies constitutional rights

Cattle Market & Farm Reports, Editorials
Jan 10, 2005
by WLJ
To the editor,
On December 8th, the U.S. Supreme Court finally heard oral arguments on whether the Beef Checkoff is legitimate "government speech." The USDA side argued that the Checkoff is constitutional because federal bureaucrats approve Checkoff Beef Board member nominations and have the power to censor program content. Our side argued that the Checkoff structure amounts to both forced taxation and forced speech and association without the basic right to publicly elected representation.
Constitutional law expert Laurence Tribe spoke on behalf of the livestock auctions (Livestock Marketing Association) and the Western Organization of Resource Councils (WORC) of which Northern Plains is the Montana affiliate. Tribe's main argument was that to force cattlemen to put money into "the elaborate machinery and structure" of the un-elected, NCBA-dominated beef board system that "purports to represent them" is blatantly unconstitutional. He pointed out that we are forced in ways that the average federal taxpayer is not: we do not have the right to vote for representation or the checks of congressional budget oversight and program accountability.
The Checkoff structure denies us all of the rights of dissenters that Supreme Court decisions have carefully protected over the years. Instead, the Checkoff program forces a million producers "to be homogenized into one message" and, if allowed to stand, would set the precedent for designing "programs to create ideological conformity in America," which is something that our Constitution clearly prohibits. Tribe conceded that the intent of the Checkoff law was probably not to force such ideological conformity, but observed that "the road to hell is often paved with good intentions."
If you are interested, you can read the full hearing transcript for yourself on the Internet at The discussion is a little hard to follow because Tribe and the Justices interact like some old married couple-interrupting each other and finishing each others' sentences. Although the Justices did not know much about the cattle industry, they did seem to understand that there are basic rights at stake here—including freedom of speech and association and no taxation without representation.
Steve and Jeanne Charter
Shepherd, MT