"Got Milk" Ad Campaign

Cochran v. Veneman
IJ Wins Appeals Court Challenge to Government-forced Funding of “Got Milk?” Ads; U.S. Supreme Court Later Robs Farmers of Victory in Related Case

IJ clients and dairy farmers Brenda and Joe Cochran

Milk producers who are forced to pay for those ubiquitous “got milk?” ads  asked the federal courts, “got free speech?”  Unfortunately, after a victory in the lower appellate courts, the Supreme Court answered that they don’t. Although just about everyone has seen the “got milk?” ads on television and in print, most people do not know that (under the federal Dairy Promotion Program) dairy farmers are forced to pay for them.  For traditional dairy farmers Joseph and Brenda Cochran from Westfield, Pa., the assessments added up to a hefty $4,000 a year from their thin operating budget for advertisements that obscure the distinctions between the Cochrans’ traditional farmed milk and the milk of large-scale producers.  Fed up with this violation of their rights, the Cochrans challenged the law in court.

Represented by the Institute for Justice, they successfully argued to the U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals that  this form of government-compelled speech violated their First Amendment right to refrain from paying for speech with which they disagreed.  The 3rd Circuit agreed, and in February 2004 ruled the law unconstitutional. 

Unfortunately, in 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a related case that compelled speech programs, like the Dairy Program, amount to “government speech.”  This means that the government can force the Cochrans and other farmers to pay for ads that allegedly benefit the whole of society.

“[T]o compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors, is sinful and tyrannical.”
—Thomas Jefferson

Essential Background


Backgrounder: Got Free Speech?  IJ & Independent Dairy Farmers Challenge Mandatory Milk Advertising

Client Photo

Client Video - none available


Latest Release: “Got Milk?” Lawsuit Ends (September 15, 2005)

Legal Briefs and Decisions

Download: 3rd Circuit Decision

Launch Release: Lawsuit Takes on "got milk?" Ads: Institute for Justice & Independent Dairy Farmers Challenge Mandatory Milk Advertising (January 12, 2004)

Case Timeline

Filed Lawsuit:


August 4, 2003 (IJ’s first brief filed)

Court Filed:


3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals



February 24, 2004: 3rd Circuit strikes down program 

May 24, 2005: Supreme Court upholds Beef Promotion Act as "government speech" in related case, Johanns v. Livestock Marketing Assoc.

Current Court: 


U.S. Supreme Court



May 31, 2005: U.S. Supreme Court grants government petition for certiorari and remands back to 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals after upholding beef check off.

Next Key Date:


To Be Determined

Additional Releases

Maps, Charts and Facts

Latest Release: U.S. Supreme Court Vacates “Got Milk?” Decision; Remands to 3rd U.S. Circuit for Further Proceedings (May 31, 2005)

none available




Op-eds, News Articles and Links

Release: Statement Release On Beef Decision: IJ Speaks Out Against Government-Compelled Speech In Beef Case (May 23, 2005)


Article: IJ Clients Ask: Got Free Speech? (April 2004)

Release: Dairy Farmers & IJ Win Challenge to "Got Milk?" Ads (February 24, 2004)


Article: Getting Milked: IJ Challenges Compelled Speech in "got milk?" Ad Campaign (October 2003)

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