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TIA says Supreme Court ruling validates check-off programs

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The recent vote by the United States Supreme Court to uphold the constitutionality of the "Beef Check-off" fund was applauded by the Tire Industry Association (TIA).

The court, in a 6-3 vote, rejected the claim the beef check-off program was a "compelled subsidy" that violated the free speech guarantees of the First Amendment.

Like many other associations, TIA has been considering pursuing federal check-off legislation to fund training, education, safety and other initiatives for the benefit of the entire tire industry.

"This decision appears to lay to rest the legal concerns that had been raised concerning such funds," says TIA Executive Vice President Roy Littlefield.

Through its enactment of the Beef Promotion and Research Act of 1985, Congress authorized the Secretary of Agriculture to appoint a Cattlemen's Beef Promotion and Research Board, whose activities were to be financed with the imposition of a $1-per-head assessment -- or "check-off" -- on all sales or importation of cattle.

A principal project pursued by the Beef Board with the Secretary's approval was the funding of the very successful "Beef. It's What's for Dinner" advertising campaign.

The Beef Act is similar to other check-off legislation enacted by Congress for the benefit of producers of other agricultural products, including cotton, potatoes, pork, eggs and lamb.

In recent years, some of these programs have come under constitutional attack, with dissidents arguing that their First Amendment free speech rights were being infringed because they were being required to make check-off payments to support promotional campaigns with which they disagreed.

One such challenge resulted in a lower federal court ruling that the Beef Act was unconstitutional.

Justice Scalia wrote for the six-justice Supreme Court majority that reversed the lower court's decision. The court concluded that the Beef Act was constitutional because the Secretary was required to approve any promotional message sponsored by the Beef Board. The "What's for Dinner" promotional campaign, therefore, qualified as "governmental speech," which is not subject to First Amendment restrictions.

The court's majority opinion explained that the government "may support valid programs and policies by taxes or other exactions," and that it is "inevitable that the funds raised by the government will be spent for speech and other expression to advocate and defend its own policies."

"This is the third time in the past eight years that the Supreme Court had considered the constitutionality of check-off funds," says Littlefield. "It would seem that the court's now well-developed position on the issue will likely remain settled law for the foreseeable future."

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