Animal Advocates Challenge AETA

Five people who say they are "committed to changing public opinion and corporate policies regarding
animal mistreatment and cruelty",
have filed a lawsuit in U.S. federal
court in Boston to challenge the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act ("AETA"),18
U.S.C. § 43 (2006).

The plaintiffs Sarahjane Blum, Ryan Shapiro, Lana Lehr,
Lauren Gazzola and J Johnson say AETA violates their rights under the First
and Fifth Amendments to the United States Constitution, for "unconstitutionally
restricting their ability to speak on these matters of public concern".

According to the Complaint, "While all kinds of activists and protestors may be chilled from
undertaking constitutionally protected activity as a result of this overbroad
statute, the specific target of the AETA is clear: animal rights activists
whose demonstrations have caused large businesses to lose profits. Previous
prosecutions under the AETA and its precursor statute, the Animal Enterprise
Protection Act (the AEPA), along with the AETA’s legislative history, support
this interpretation.

targeting lawful speech and advocacy, the AETA has cast a chill over the animal
rights community, leading many advocates to censor themselves and refrain from
protected speech."

Plaintiffs say that "AETA is unconstitutional for several independent reasons: (1) it is
overbroad because it sweeps within its ambit core First-Amendment-protected
speech; (2) it is vague because many of its terms leave citizens uninformed as
to whether they will run afoul of the law’s prohibitions; and (3) it
discriminates on the basis of the content and viewpoint of particular speech
and expressive conduct."
Plaintiffs seek a declaration that the AETA is unlawful
and an injunction striking down the AETA on its face, and as applied to them,
as a violation of the First and Fifth Amendments to the United States

classifies certain protected speech and activity as a ‘terrorist’ crime. It
punishes individuals who alone, or with others, criticize or demonstrate
against what the statute vaguely identifies as an "animal enterprise," if that
otherwise permissible speech damages the property or profitability of the
animal enterprise or even a person or entity connected with it.

the AETA creates the terrorist offense of traveling in interstate or foreign
commerce, or using the mail or any other facility of interstate commerce, ‘for
the purpose of damaging or interfering with the operations of an animal
enterprise,’ when in connection with such purpose, an individual (A) intentionally
damages or causes the loss of any real or personal property used by an animal
enterprise, or by a person or entity with a connection to an animal enterprise;
(B) intentionally places a person in reasonable fear of death or serious bodily
injury through a course of conduct involving threats, vandalism, property
damage, criminal trespass, harassment or intimidation; or (C) conspires to do

fails to define key terms, but its plain language criminalizes core political
advocacy and speech that are protected by the First Amendment. For example, it
punishes otherwise lawful and innocuous speech or advocacy that causes a
business that uses or sells animal products to lose profit, even where that
lost profit comes from a decrease in sales in reaction to public advocacy.
Thus, AETA effectively criminalizes the very purpose of the First Amendment –
changing people’s minds. It would also criminalize individuals who plan a
peaceful protest, if an entity undertakes the routine business decision hire a
security guard."

Plaintiffs say they "currently want to engage in lawful animal rights activism, like
attending public protests, or investigating and publicizing conditions and
mistreatment of animals on factory farms – all of which are protected activity
under the First Amendment – in order to educate fellow citizens about the harms
and abuses associated with large-scale factory farming and to urge businesses
to discontinue inhumane farming practices. But, they are chilled from this
lawful and socially useful advocacy based on their reasonable fear that such
activities will subject them to prosecution and imprisonment as terrorists
under the AETA

The Plaintiffs’ attorneys include Howard Friedman
and David Milton, Howard Friedman Law Offices; Rachel Meeropol
 and Alexis
, Center for
Constitutional Rights, and Alexander A. Reinert,  Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law.

For more on AETA and how
it was passed by Congress and signed into law…..

For a copy of the
Complaint, see attachments below.