In March, U.S. District Court Judge Joseph L. Tauro dismissed a lawsuit filed by animal rights activists that sought to overturn the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA).
The activists filed the lawsuit in 2011 alleging that the AETA had a chilling effect on their First Amendment rights. Essentially, the activists claimed that the AETA made them fearful that they would be prosecuted under the AETA even if they engaged in lawful protests. This is despite the fact that the Act states it does not prohibit conduct protected by the First Amendment, such as peaceful picketing or demonstrations.
Under the AETA, a person is prohibited from engaging in conduct that damages or interferes with the operations of an animal enterprise such as fur dealers, farms, or research facilities where animals are used or kept. It adds stiff penalties for activists who break the law through vandalism – like throwing paint on furs – or releasing animals from farms or research facilities.
Some of the animal rights activists filing the lawsuit previously engaged in, and some had been arrested for, what they call “civil disobedience.” One of the activists, Lauren Gazzola, was previously sentenced to 52 months in prison for violating the Animal Enterprise Protection Act, the predecessor to the AETA.
Referring to her illegal conduct that led to her jail sentence she has stated, “I’d do it again. It was all worth it.” She claims the AETA has prevented her from also telling a group of law students “so go do it.”
According to news sources, the activists’ attorney has vowed to appeal the ruling.