A group of animal rights activists on Thursday challenged [complaint, PDF] the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act [text, PDF] which they claim violates their rights to peaceful protest. The lawsuit, filed in the US District Court for the District of Massachusetts [official website] by the Center for Constitutional Rights [advocacy website], claims that the law is overly broad and criminalizes activity that is protected by the First Amendment [text]. According to the complaint:
The AETA 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 Amendmentchanging people's minds. ... The law is also uncommonly broad, insofar as it defines an "animal enterprise" to include almost any business that buys or sells animal products. As such, it insulates a large number of businesses from the types of criticism that are deeply rooted in our constitutional tradition.The plaintiffs claim that fear of prosecution has stopped them from engaging in lawful activism.
The AETA was signed into law by then-president George W. Bush in 2006, replacing the 1992 Animal Enterprise Protection Act. Supporters claim that the law contains adequate First Amendment protections. The law has rarely been used over the past five years.