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Court Nixes Claim Over ‘Real California Cheese’

SACRAMENTO (CN) - A California appeals court has dismissed the Gallo Cattle Company's beef with the mandated fees used to pay for "Real California Cheese" labels. The court ruled that state assessments used to fund the cheese campaign do not violate Gallo's free-speech rights.

The California Department of Food and Agriculture imposes "milk-production assessments" that are used in part to fund the cheese campaign. Gallo, a market milk and cheese producer in Merced County, claimed the fees constitute compelled speech by forcing Gallo to pay for a message it does not necessarily endorse.

The appeals court relied on the U.S. Supreme Court holding in Johanns v. Livestock Marketing Association, which found that commodity advertising is government speech if its basic message is prescribed by law and its content is "overseen and subject to the control of a politically accountable official."

Further, Johanns established that taxpayers have no free-speech right not to fund this government speech when advertising funds are raised through taxes or a targeted assessment.

The milk-producer advertising program does not unconstitutionally compel speech, the court ruled, because it uses a label that boosts sales of only those cheese makers who agree to use it.

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