United States v. Johnson

At a Glance

Date Filed: 

November 6, 2014

Current Status 

Kevin and Tyler have appealed the district court's 2015 ruling upholding the constitutionality of the AETA. Oral argument on the appeal was held on September 21, 2016.

Co-Counsel 

The People’s Law Office, Lillian McCartin, and the Federal Defender Program in Chicago

Client(s) 

Kevin Johnson

Case Description 

In July 2014, Kevin Johnson and Tyler Lang were indicted under the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA) for allegedly releasing, and conspiring to release, thousands of mink and foxes from mid-western fur farms and spray-painting “Liberation is Love” on the side of a barn.  Johnson and Lang previously faced state charges of “possession of burglary tools” after a police search during a traffic stop turned up wire cutters and similar items. Both men pleaded guilty to the state charges and served jail sentences. They now face up to 20 years in federal prison if convicted of the new terrorism charges.

The case is part of CCR’s longstanding efforts to combat the criminalization of dissent and, in particular, to defend animal rights and environmental activists targeted by the Green Scare.

Passed by Congress in November 2006, the AETA targets animal rights activists, criminalizing First Amendment protected speech and advocacy, including protests, boycotts, picketing, and whistleblowing. Yet, while the law is aimed at stifling animal rights activism, its language is so broad and vague it could be used to prosecute labor activists who organize a successful boycott of Wal-Mart or union members who picket a university cafeteria, because both sell animal products.

CCR moved to dismiss the indictment on the grounds that the AETA is facially unconstitutional, in violation of the First Amendment. CCR argued that, first, the AETA is overbroad because it criminalizes protected speech that causes an “animal enterprise” to lose profits or business goodwill. Second, the law is unconstitutionally vague, because it fails to delimit law enforcement and prosecutorial discretion; the statute effectively criminalizes every property crime that has an interstate component and is undertaken against a business, allowing for and resulting in arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement against animal rights activists. Third, CCR challenged the AETA on substantive due process grounds because it punishes as an act of “terrorism” a quintessentially non-violent act: saving animals from the violence of being killed and turned into fur coats.

Case Timeline

September 21, 2016
Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals hears oral argument
September 21, 2016
Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals hears oral argument

Audio of the argument is available here.

July 29, 2016
CCR files its reply brief
July 29, 2016
CCR files its reply brief
July 7, 2016
Government files their response
July 7, 2016
Government files their response
May 9, 2016
CCR files its opening appeal brief
May 9, 2016
CCR files its opening appeal brief
The appeal brief argues that the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act violates the First Amendment, is void for vagueness, and violates substantive due process, and thus must be struck down on its face as unconstitutional.
March 5, 2015
District court denies CCR's motion to dismiss indictment
March 5, 2015
District court denies CCR's motion to dismiss indictment
February 19, 2015

Court hears oral argument on motion to dismiss

February 19, 2015

Court hears oral argument on motion to dismiss

January 16, 2015

Defendants reply to government's opposition to motion to dismiss

January 16, 2015

Defendants reply to government's opposition to motion to dismiss

December 17, 2014

Government opposes motion to dismiss

December 17, 2014

Government opposes motion to dismiss

November 26, 2014
Professor Sudha Setty files amicus brief in support of our motion to dismiss
November 26, 2014
Professor Sudha Setty files amicus brief in support of our motion to dismiss
November 6, 2014

CCR and co-counsel file motion to dismiss indictment

November 6, 2014

CCR and co-counsel file motion to dismiss indictment

July 8, 2014
Johnson and Lang are indicted under Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act
July 8, 2014
Johnson and Lang are indicted under Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act