Milking the First Amendment

First Amendment – Every so often we lawyers come across words that are defined by the government in ways that skew or obscure the meaning most of us are used to. Some famous examples are the Supreme Court’s struggle with defining “pornography” (“you know it when you see it”) or “speech” (which can even be unspoken expression). These examples are generally excused because we recognize that it’s hard to get hundreds of millions of people to agree on the meaning of a word that’s found in our laws, and we need to pick something in order to have effective laws.

But what about when the government stretches the definition of a word so far that businesses have to lie? And not only that, but they face fines and imprisonment if they don’t lie! That’s what has been happening in the mid-Atlantic where a man is suing the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to protect his right to tell the truth.

Randy Sowers is your everyday milk farmer trying to sell skim milk across state lines. The thing is, once you start selling milk in another state the FDA regulations control how you label and market your product. Critical to Mr. Sowers is the definition of “skim milk.” What could be so hard about that? Randy’s milk is made of one thing: milk with the cream skimmed out. But according to the FDA, that’s not skim milk—that’s either “imitation skim milk” or “imitation milk product.” Ok, so what does the FDA consider “skim milk”? The only product that can use that term is skim milk with artificial vitamins added. Think about that for a while. All Randy wants from the government is to tell people that his product is exactly what it is. These are the situations where lawyers like us can help individuals sue some sense into the government.

The legal world can be a strange and unpredictable place. If you find yourself in court, bring an experienced attorney who can help you understand and navigate its quirks. To get started, call us at Douglas, Leonard & Garvey, P.C., 1-800-240-1988 or fill out our online contact form.


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