At a Glance
On March 12, 2013, the District Court dismissed the suit, ruling that plaintiffs did not have standing to bring the case. On March 7, 2014 the First Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed that dismissal. On November 10, 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the case.
Alexander Reinert, Associate Professor Cardozo Law School; Law Offices of Howard Friedman PC.
Sarahjane Blum, Ryan Shapiro, Lauren Gazzola, J Johnson, Lana Lehr
Enacted in November 2006, the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA) punishes a wide swath of speech and other advocacy protected by the First Amendment, when that activism is directed at animal enterprises.
Pushed through Congress by a powerful lobby of pharmaceutical corporations and groups like the Fur Commission USA, the United Egg Producers, and the American Meat Institute, the AETA punishes intending to “interfere” with, and causing a loss of property (which includes profits) to, a business or other entity that uses or sells animals or animal products, or which has “a connection to, relationship with, or transactions with an animal enterprise.” The statute does not actually describe what conduct is prohibited; it criminalizes only having a particular purpose (interfering with an animal enterprise) and effect (causing “loss”). Property loss is not limited to that caused by illegal activity but could also include loss caused by boycotts, whistle-blowing, and other expression protected by the First Amendment. The AETA also elevates what would normally be state-level property crimes and minor charges – such as vandalism or civil disobedience – into a federal crime of terrorism, when this protest activity is directed at an animal enterprise or its affiliates and when the activity involves an interstate component (such as use of a cell phone). Of course, to date the law has only been used against animal rights activists.
Non-violent protesters charged under the AETA face up to twenty years in prison, depending on the amount of profit loss that results from their actions. Moreover, though the law targets animal rights activists specifically, it is written so broadly that it could turn a successful labor protest at Wal-Mart, which sells animal products, into an act of domestic terrorism.
The AETA amended the 1992 Animal Enterprise Protection Act (AEPA), which punished causing a “physical disruption” to an animal enterprise. In 2006, six activists were convicted in New Jersey for conspiring to violate the AEPA, and served between one and six years in prison for publishing a website that advocated and reported on protest activity against an animal testing lab, its business affiliates, and their employees. The activists were not accused of injuring anyone or vandalizing any property, or attempting to do so. One of the defendants in that case, CCR Communications Associate Lauren Gazzola, became a plaintiff in Blum.
Blum was filed on behalf of five long-time animal rights activists whose speech and other activism had been chilled out of fear that they could be prosecuted as terrorists under the AETA.
Blum v. Holder is part of CCR’s broader efforts to push back against the criminalization of dissent and, in particular, to defend animal rights and environmental activists targeted by government and corporate repression as part of the Green Scare.