Animal Protection > ALF Foes
Legal Ruling on the Animal Enterprise Terrorist Act

Federal judge weighs legal challenge to animal rights anti-terrorism law
By Howard Mintz
Updated: 07/14/2009

A federal judge in San Jose on Monday sent mixed signals over the fate of a new law designed to target violent animal-rights protests, indicating he will rule later in the nation's first direct legal challenge to Congress' attempt to protect animal researchers and scientists from serious safety threats.

During an hourlong hearing, U.S. District Judge Ronald Whyte suggested that the 2006 Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act may be legally vulnerable, but he also left doubts about whether the current lawsuit is the right path to take on the law in its entirety.

Federal prosecutors invoked the law for the first time earlier this year, indicting four activists accused of threats and vandalism against University of California medical researchers in Santa Cruz and Berkeley.

Lawyers for the defendants, backed by civil liberties groups, argue that the animal terrorism law is unconstitutional. They say it's too broad, vague and tramples on the free speech rights of animal rights advocates who protest and boycott for their cause. In moving to dismiss the indictment, they maintain the law targets animal rights groups so broadly that it would criminalize a boycott or protest outside a fur store.

At one point, Whyte asked attorneys for the activists: "Essentially, your position is that if picketing or boycotting is particularly effective, it's going to be a violation of the statute?"
Attorney Kali Grech told the judge the law is even more sweeping than that.
"This is clearly the regulation of ideas,'' she said.

Justice Department attorneys defend the law, saying it is constitutional and punishes violent and threatening conduct, not speech. The law makes it a crime to interfere with an "animal enterprise" through threats that put someone in fear of death or serious injury.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Elise Becker told Whyte that the allegations of violence against the four activists go far beyond boycotting a business or protesting for animal rights.

"The Supreme Court has consistently found that threats are not protected speech," Becker said.Congress enacted the legislation, which was pushed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., in the wake of a number of violent protests at California research facilities.

Federal prosecutors in March unveiled an indictment charging Joseph Buddenberg, Maryam Khajavi, Nathan Pope and Adriana Stumpo, alleging they were responsible for a series of threatening protests against Bay Area researchers and their families.
The defendants have pleaded not guilty to the charges.

July 2009

[San Jose Mercury News]

A federal judge in San Jose will weigh arguments today over whether a 2006 law designed to stem violent animal rights protests is unconstitutional, marking the nation's first legal showdown involving a Justice Department crackdown on activists accused of threats against medical researchers and others.

U.S. District Judge Ronald Whyte is considering a legal challenge to the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, which was invoked for the first time in an indictment earlier this year against four activists charged with threats and vandalism against University of California medical researchers in Santa Cruz and Berkeley.

In motions to dismiss the indictment, civil liberties groups and lawyers for the defendants argue that the animal terrorism law is unconstitutional on its face, saying it is overbroad because it covers legitimate free speech and so vague that citizens cannot determine if they're committing a crime.

In response, Justice Department lawyers defend the constitutionality of the law, saying it applies to "criminal conduct, not protected speech."


full story:

Forwarded from the Civil Liberties Defense Center (CLDC); June 2009

As I write this, I am awaiting trial and could spend up to ten years of my life in prison. I am accused of speech and non-violent actions on behalf of the hundreds of thousands of animals currently imprisoned in University of California laboratories. It's been four months since my arrest and as more facts of the case come out, one thing is transparent: this case has nothing to do with me or my co-defendants. Nothing to do with our alleged crimes. Not the alleged chalk on the sidewalk outside a vivisectors home or computers allegedly used for research in California. This is about the power all of you hold, as individuals and collectively as a movement. This is yet another attempt by the FBI to intimidate and destroy our community, to strike fear into each and every one of you. Force and threats are the only tools they have against a movement composed entirely of selfless individuals driven by compassion.

But I am not intimidated. I have seen the best of people through this ordeal. From the 60 calls to the jail I was held at in one night demanding and succeeding in acquiring me vegan meals, to all the letters I received, to the hundreds of people who have donated to our legal fund or organized benefits, you all have been amazing.

The government simply does not have the money to prosecute all of you as terrorists. They are counting on you to read of cases like ours and retreat, paralyzed by fear. So be fearless and increase your activism. Because those we are fighting for don't have the privilege of turning their backs and walking away.

I'd like to end with a humble plea. The government intends to send an example and go all the way with this case. Our legal team is solid and experienced in fighting government repression and dedicated to winning the case and hopefully overturning the AETA. They are working hard at reduced fees simply because they believe in us. We are relying on the generosity of supporters for our legal defense. If the government wins this case, it will have immeasurable consequences on future activists as well as the animals. If you can help in any way, please donate to our legal fund.

Joseph Buddenberg



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