United States v. United Foods, Inc., 533 U.S. 405 (2001)

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certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the sixth circuit

No. 00-276. Argued April 17, 2001—Decided June 25, 2001

The Mushroom Promotion, Research, and Consumer Information Act mandates that fresh mushroom handlers pay assessments used primarily to fund advertisements promoting mushroom sales. Respondent refused to pay the assessment, claiming that it violates the First Amendment. It filed a petition challenging the assessment with the Secretary of Agriculture, and the United States filed an enforcement action in the District Court. After the administrative appeal was denied, respondent sought review in the District Court, which consolidated the two cases. In granting the Government summary judgment, the court found dispositive the decision in Glickman v. Wileman Brothers & Elliott, Inc., 521 U. S. 457, that the First Amendment was not violated when agricultural marketing orders, as part of a larger regulatory marketing scheme, required producers of California tree fruit to pay assessments for product advertising. The Sixth Circuit reversed, holding that Glickman did not control because the mandated payments in this case were not part of a comprehensive statutory agricultural marketing program.

Held: The assessment requirement violates the First Amendment.

Pp. 409-417.

(a) Even viewing the expression here as commercial speech, there is no basis under Glickman or this Court's other precedents to sustain the assessments. The First Amendment may prevent the government from, inter alia, compelling individuals to pay subsidies for speech to which they object. See Abood v. Detroit Bd. of Ed., 431 U. S. 209; Keller v. State Bar of Cal., 496 U. S. 1. Such precedents provide the beginning point for analysis here. Respondent wants to convey the message that its brand of mushrooms is superior to those grown by other producers, and it objects to being charged for a contrary message which seems to be favored by a majority of producers. First Amendment values are at serious risk if the government can compel a citizen or group of citizens to subsidize speech on the side that it favors; and there is no apparent principle distinguishing out of hand minor debates about whether a branded mushroom is better than just any mushroom. Thus, the compelled funding here must pass First Amendment scrutiny. Pp. 409-411.


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