Animal Rights Activists Argue Against AETA Before the 1st Circuit

By Gabriella Khorasanee, JD on February 10, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Back in November, the First Circuit had an opportunity to decide the interplay between the First Amendment and a terrorism statute, but it skirted the issue. Last week, the First Circuit heard arguments concerning the First Amendment and another terrorism statute -- the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act ("AETA"), reports Salon.

The Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act

The AETA was enacted in 2006, and in sum criminalizes "1) intentionally damaging or causing the loss of real or personal property; 2) intentionally placing a person in reasonable fear of death or serious bodily injury; and 3) conspiring or attempting to commit either of these two acts." The statute also explicitly states that nothing in the Act should be construed to interfere with free speech under the First Amendment.
The District Court Decision

Plaintiffs, individual animal rights activists, said they dramatically decreased their activism after some of them were arrested under the Animal Enterprise Protection Act of 1992, the precursor to the AETA, and after the enactment of the AETA. The plaintiffs initiated an action in the District Court for the District of Massachusetts arguing that the AETA violated the First Amendment for being overbroad and discriminating based on viewpoint and content, and violated the Fifth Amendment on grounds of vagueness.

Eric Holder, as U.S. Attorney General, argued that the plaintiffs lacked standing because plaintiffs did not allege actual harm, and also argued that the issue was not ripe for review because the plaintiffs did not plan to engage in any conduct prohibited by the AETA. The district court agreed and stated that the plaintiffs "failed to allege an objectively reasonable chill and, therefore, failed to establish an injury-in-fact," especially since plaintiffs wanted to engage in conduct that was clearly not proscribed by the AETA.

The First Circuit Appeal

Last week, the First Circuit heard oral arguments and lawyers for the Center for Constitutional Rights argued that the AETA violated the First Amendment and urged the First Circuit to strike the law. We'll have to wait and see if the First Circuit will dodge the bullet again, or tackle the issue head on.

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