Short update on the case of the AETA4 in California, and ways that folks can support them.
On July 13th, defense attorneys for Joseph Buddenberg, Maryam Khajavi, Nathan Pope and Adriana Stumpo (the AETA 4) presented oral arguments on their motion to dismiss the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act. The defense demanded that the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA) be struck down as unconstitutional before Judge Ronald Whyte of the United States District Court, Northern District of California in San Jose.
The AETA is being used for the first time since its passage by Congress in 2006 to do exactly what civil rights advocates feared it would do - criminalize activities protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The oral arguments presented on July 13th were not about the allegations as directly applied to the AETA 4, but rather that the whole case should be dismissed now because the AETA itself is unconstitutional.
The courtroom was packed, and many people were there in support of the AETA 4. The following are very rough and incomplete notes of the oral arguments:
Matthew Strugar, of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), argues that AETA is unconstitutional for a number of reasons. For example, section (d) (3) (B) defines the term 'economic damage' and says it "does not include any lawful economic disruption (including a lawful boycott) that results from lawful public, governmental, or business reaction to the disclosure of information about an animal enterprise;"
CCR argues that this boycott exemption, which was directly influenced by third parties, is vague and unconstitutional.
A comparison is made between the civil rights movement and the animal rights movement. For example, the case NAACP v. CLAIBORNE HARDWARE. [In 1966, a boycott of white merchants in Claiborne County, Miss., was launched at a meeting of a local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).]
Strugar argued that under AETA, if a boycott is effective, you are penalized. If a boycott campaign is not effective, you are not penalized.
Kali Grech, attorney for Maryam Khajavi argues that AETA is aimed at silencing animal rights activists, as evidenced in past comments made by Representative Sensenbrenner.
Grech argues that AETA is aimed at silencing critical speech, which is constitutionally protected. This is a content based restriction. For example, section (a) (1) says, "for the purpose of damaging or interfering with the operations of an animal enterprise"
Animal rights protests are the only ones excluded under this statute. This is illegal under the constitution.
Strugar argued that if a business owner threatens a protester, they can't be charged with AETA, but if a protestor threatens a business owner, they can be charged. This is a viewpoint based restriction and the government is clearly restricting one side of the debate.
The government then argued. The government's position, as stated by U.S. Attorney Elise Becker, is:
The statute is conduct related, not speech related.
Subsection (2) (A) - not just speech, but conduct. Not just a lawful protest, those are clearly exempt.
Harassment is criminal conduct. Judge Whyte asked, paraphrasing here, "If at the same times each day, a protester stands outside of a researchers workplace with a sign that says "Dr. Smith is a torturer," is that harrassment?" U.S. Attorney Becker said no, as long as the person with the sign is demonstrating lawfully (standing on a public sidewalk, etc.)
Becker argues that AETA criminalizes what people do, not what they say or believe. AETA is applied when a person is placed in reasonable fear, when there is a pattern of criminal conduct, threats, vandalism, etc.
And then more arguments from the defense :
Section (a) (2) (B) uses frivolous and overly broad language: "intentionally places a person in reasonable fear of the death of, or serious bodily injury to that person, a member of the immediate family (as defined in section 115) of that person, or a spouse or intimate partner of that person by a course of conduct involving threats, acts of vandalism, property damage, criminal trespass, harassment, or intimidation"
Terms used are not defined. For example, 'harassment' and 'intimidation' are already covered under the word 'threat'.
Sections (a) (2) (A) and (a) (2) (B) are very similar and could be used for the same activity.
Judge Whyte has not yet made a ruling. The next court appearance was scheduled for Monday, September 14.
Ways you can support the AETA4:
1. Enter the raffle and buy a ticket (or two) at http://www.veganthis.org (flyer on main page). All funds raised go towards legal defense.
2. Organize a benefit, and help out with donations to the legal fund. Anything helps!
Check or money order can be sent to:
The AETA Defense Fund
PO Box 99162
Emeryville, CA 94662
Or you can PayPal donations to firstname.lastname@example.org
3. Make a quick call for justice for the AETA4 (this will only take fifteen seconds of your time:
Call the Department of Justice at (202) 514-1057 and ask Assistant Attorney General David Kris to stop using counter-terrorism resources to criminalize animal rights activism. Be sure to mention the case "U.S.A. v. Buddenberg"
4. Please also sign this petition to Congress demanding a repeal of the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, from the Center for Constitutional Rights (this will also only take a few seconds of your time):
5. Continue to support and spread the word about the case!
AETA4 Support Team
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