Another Federal Court Upholds the AETA

On Wednesday, yet another federal court upheld the constitutionality of the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA), this time in a case where two animal rights extremists with a long history of targeting individuals involved in research are charged with violating the AETA for allegedly releasing mink from a farm in Illinois and conspiring to release foxes from another farm in Illinois.

This latest blow to the animal rights narrative that the AETA is unconstitutional represents a major setback to attorneys representing extremists, who have for years attempted to find a court willing to invalidate the law.

Judge Amy J. St. Eve, hearing the case for the Federal District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division, was clear that the “AETA is directed at property damage, threats, and violence toward animal enterprises.”  She disagreed with the arguments of Kevin Johnson, a.k.a. Kevin Olliff, and Tyler Lang that the law criminalizes free speech, finding that the law’s history and rules of construction “unambiguously indicate that Congress did not intend for the AETA to infringe upon protected First Amendment speech.”

The court also rejected the argument that the law “targets animal rights activists for arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement” determining that “the AETA strikes a balance between protecting the First Amendment rights of activists and punishing the criminal conduct of extremists who target animal enterprises.”

The two extremists who are being charged under the AETA have a long history of targeting individuals involved in research in southern California and in 2011 and 2012, several research facilities obtained restraining orders against Tyler Lang for allegedly harassing their employees.  The two previously pleaded guilty to state charges of “possession of burglary tools” after wire cutters and other burglary tools were found during a traffic stop.  Tyler Lang is currently out on bail pending the outcome of the case, but his alleged accomplice, Kevin Johnson, remains in prison.

The judge’s decision that the law is constitutional is important to NABR members, as the AETA is a critical tool for law enforcement and is the only federal law specifically designed to protect individuals involved in research from threats, acts of vandalism, property damage, criminal trespass, harassment and intimidation.

The AETA was enacted by Congress in 2006 in response to threats and violence towards individuals involved in research and since its enactment, the frequency and severity of illegal actions in the U.S. has decreased significantly.

For more information about the AETA and the legal challenges to its constitutionality, please visit: http://www.nabr.org/history-of-the-legal-challenges-to-the-aeta/.