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First Case Under Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act Heard in San Jose, CA
Rights Attorneys Challenge Unconstitutionally Vague Law
SAN JOSE, Calif. - July 13 - Today, the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA) was put on trial by attorneys with the Center for Constitutional Rights, the Civil Liberties Defense Center, and co-counsel who demanded it be struck down as unconstitutional. The challenge comes in defense of four animal rights activists who are accused of chanting, making leaflets and writing with chalk on the sidewalk in front of a senior bio-researcher's house, as well as using the internet to research the company whose actions they planned to protest. This case is the first to be prosecuted under the November 2008 law. Under the AETA, the activists are charged with acts of animal enterprise terrorism.
"The AETA is so overbroad and vague that picketers protesting labor practices at WalMart who mount a successful boycott could be charged with animal enterprise terrorism because WalMart sells lunch meat," said CCR Cooperating Attorney Matthew Strugar, who argued the challenge today. "And it is impossible to know from the language of the law whether your activities might be covered. The AETA is unconstitutional, and if it remains on the books it will be a genuine threat to free speech."
U.S.A. v. Buddenberg is a federal prosecution of four animal rights activists in California. On February 19th and 20th, 2009 the Joint Terrorism Task Force of the FBI arrested four animal rights activists for conspiracy to commit animal enterprise terrorism. The indictment against Joseph Buddenberg, Maryam Khajavi, Nathan Pope and Adriana Stumpo (the AETA 4) charges them with conduct including protesting, writing with chalk on the sidewalk, chanting, leafleting, and the alleged use of "the Internet to find information on bio-medical researchers." According to the rights attorneys, these acts are all protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
"The First Amendment and the Bill of Rights both protect the rights of citizens to voice unpleasant, unpopular sentiments, or even statements that cause businesses to lose money," said Lauren Regan, attorney and director of the Civil Liberties Defense Center. "The AETA and the government's prosecution in this case are an attack on those rights and drastically curtail the constitutional rights of everyone in this country. We must be vigilant in protecting the sanctity of the rights to free expression because once lost, they will be difficult to regain."
Passed by Congress in November 2008, the AETA is aimed at suppressing speech and advocacy by criminalizing First Amendment-protected activities such as protests, boycotts, picketing and whistleblowing. CCR and the defense team have asked the Court to strike down the AETA as unconstitutional because it criminalizes a broad swath of protected First Amendment activities and is so unclear as to fail to give people notice of whether or not their conduct is lawful.
For more information on the case, click here.For more information on the AETA click here.