At a Glance
On November 8, 2017, the appellate court affirmed the district court's ruling finding the AETA constitutional.
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.