AETA Appeal Reportedly ‘Flounders’ in 7th Circuit

Based on the “critical” questions and statements of a three-judge panel at a September 21 hearing, Court House News reported the appeal of Kevin Johnson’s conviction under the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA) “flounders.”  Johnson received a three-year prison sentence for attacking a mink farm near Chicago in 2013 (U.S. v. Johnson).  At the hearing, Rachel Meeropol of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CRR) argued on appeal that such prosecution was unlawful because the AETA was unconstitutional. This argument against the AETA has been made repeatedly by animal rights attorneys. Four courts, including  two federal Courts of Appeal, have found the law constitutional.   The U.S. Supreme Court denied a request to review the issues in Blum v. Holder.

U.S. Circuit Judge Ann Williams noted she had "a big problem" with the argument. "The definition of animal enterprise is very clear under the statute, and traveling interstate to free 2,000 minks is the kind of crime this statute envisions," Williams added.  After Meeropol claimed the statute was overbroad and might cover throwing a stone through a Whole Foods window or the financial losses allegedly caused by the film “Blackfish”, Judge Williams remained unconvinced.  "The statute specifically says that it doesn't cover expressive activity protected by the First Amendment or lawful economic disruption," the judge said. The other two federal district court judges on the panel also made comments critical of the appeal. When Meeropol attempted to reiterate her arguments, Court House News said the court “seemed too disinterested to question her further and certainly disinclined to invalidate the statute.”