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Federal judge dismisses challenge to animal rights protest law

A judge for the US District Court for the District of Massachusetts [official website] on Monday dismissed [opinion, PDF] a challenge [JURIST report] to the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act of 2006 (AETA) [text, PDF]. The challenge was brought by five animal rights activists, all represented by the Center for Constitutional Rights [advocacy website], who claimed that AETA infringed their First Amendment [text] rights. The law prohibits the intentional "damages or ... loss of any real or personal property" used by an animal enterprise, while also banning the use of "threats, vandalism, harassment or intimidation" to intentionally cause fear to an individual in attempts to interfere with the operations of an animal enterprise. The Act does, however, explicitly state that the language is not to be construed "to prohibit any expressive conduct (including peaceful picketing or other peaceful demonstration) protected from legal prohibition by the First Amendment to the Constitution." Judge Joseph Tauro dismissed the challenge, finding that "none of [the] Plaintiffs' proposed activities fall within the statutory purview of intentionally damaging or causing loss of real or personal property or intentionally placing a person in reasonable fear of death or serious injury," and so there was no showing of "an objectively reasonable chill on their First Amendment rights."

The law has been used very rarely since 2006, though there has been concern [JURIST commenty] that it would threaten 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.

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