This post is not legal advice.
In a prior post, I discussed the ongoing battle in North Dakota by the North Dakota Farm Bureau challenging the constitutionality of the state’s ban on non-family corporations owning farmland in North Dakota (www.aglaw.umd.edu/blog/ anti-corporate-farming-law-challenged-in-north-dakota). The federal district court in North Dakota recently granted a motion by the North Dakota Farmers Union (NDFU) and the Dakota Resource Council (DRC) to intervene in defense of the law. The district court ruled that both parties had interests in protecting that law that were separate and distinct from North Dakota’s interests. Both parties will be allowed to defend the constitutionality of the ban on non-family corporations owning farmland in North Dakota against the challenge by North Dakota Farm Bureau (North Dakota Farm Bureau, 2017).
You might be asking yourself, “Paul, what is intervention in a lawsuit?” Good question! In a lawsuit, a non-party to the lawsuit can intervene, or join the lawsuit, in the lawsuit in certain situations. For example, you and an own sibling farmland together and Fred sues your sibling claiming he is the rightful owner of the farmland. You could ask the court to allow you to intervene to protect your ownership interest in the farmland. I’ve discussed intervening more in-depth in this previous post (www.aglaw.umd.edu/blog/fourth-circuit-backs-district-courts-decision-to-deny-intervention-in-alt-case).
In this case, both parties (NDFU and DRC) wanted to intervene to defend the constitutionality of the law. In both cases, NDFU and DRC had an interest different than the state’s interest in defending the law’s constitutionality. NDFU drafted the language that would ultimately become the ban on non-family corporations owning farmland. Since drafting the language in the 1930s, NDFU has been the primary defender of the law. Previous court decisions have allowed a primary defender of a law to intervene. NDFU’s membership has a stake in the law’s constitutionality. NDFU and its members will be able to assist the state in defending the law’s constitutionality.
The DRC also has an interest different than the state’s interests. DRC’s membership is predominately farmers and ranchers in North Dakota. DRC’s members are concerned they will lose their farms if the law is struck down. The court highlights that the DRC’s interests (and one could argue NDFU’s interests) are clearly narrower than the state’s interest and the state may not be able to focus clearly on defending the law for the narrow interest of family farmers and ranchers. The court grants motions to intervene for both NDFU and DRC.
So where are we now? The constitutional challenge to North Dakota’s ban on non-family corporations owning farmland law will move forward with NDFU and DRC as defendants. NDFU and DRC will work with the state of North Dakota to defend the constitutionality of the law. The North Dakota Farm Bureau and a variety of farming operations impacted by the law (in-state, out-of-state, and international farming operations) will try to show the law violates the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
As I discussed in a prior post, laws, like the one in question in North Dakota, have been viewed as keeping corporations out of a state. A few corporate farming laws have been found unconstitutional in the Midwest. This case will be interesting to watch to determine how the court rules on the constitutionality of North Dakota’s law.
North Dakota Farm Bureau v. North Dakota, No. 1:16-cv-137 (D.N.D. Jan. 11, 2017).