A veterinarian who for years has answered online and telephone questions from pet owners worried about little Fifi or Fido, but who can’t take their pet in for one reason or another, is taking a second shot at knocking down a state speech restriction.
Ron Hines is a licensed veterinarian who works from his Texas home to help pet owners around the world. Owners sometimes can’t visit a vet because there isn’t one nearby, they don’t have the money or they can’t get out of their homes.
He started the service after a long and successful career with the National Institutes of Health, where he was honored with the Public Health Service Commendation Medal.
But the state of Texas fined him because officials demanded that he see the pet patient before offering help.
He first sued over the speech restriction several years ago, but the courts said his speech was commercial speech, not free speech, so the First Amendment didn’t apply.
He’s going back to the same court, however, because the U.S. Supreme Court in the meantime has upended the foundation for that ruling by ruling the First Amendment also protects commercial speech.
That was in the NIFLA v. Becerra case, in which it rejected the idea of “professional speech” being outside the First Amendment.
“Speech is not unprotected merely because it is uttered by ‘professionals,'” the ruling said.
So Hines is back in federal court seeking to defeat the Texas limits on “professional speech.”
“Ron has a First Amendment right to give veterinary advice,” said Institute for Justice Senior Attorney Jeff Rowes. “In June of this year, the Supreme Court ruled that ‘speech is not unprotected merely because it is uttered by professionals.’ That means Ron should have prevailed in 2015. We’re going back to court to correct this injustice.”
Also, since the previous decision, telemedicine laws in Texas have expanded the freedom of health care practitioners such as doctors and nurses to offer expert advice without first performing an in-person medical exam.
Texas has yet to extend that change to veterinarians.
“It makes no sense to say that animals require greater regulation than humans, yet Texas has more lenient telemedicine rules for doctors than for veterinarians,” said IJ Attorney Andrew Ward. “The First Amendment does not allow Texas to let one group of professionals speak while denying that same right to others.”
Hines explained, “This case is much bigger than me. I’m fighting not only for pet owners to have access to life-saving knowledge for the animals they love, but also for many more Americans to be able to freely share their knowledge online.”
The case is developing in U.S. District Court in Texas.
Normally, someone who has lost such a dispute cannot come back with the same claims, but IJ said the U.S. Supreme Court created an exception for Hines to return and make his arguments again.