A high-profile case in the First District Court of Appeals in Boston is currently under way involving four suspects at the center of a lawsuit who claim their First Amendment rights are being violated by a law enacted by Congress in 2006 meant to suppress animal-rights supporters, according to various reports.
The law — called the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act — encompasses a broad swathe of activism, including a wave of highly controversial “ag-gag” bills passed by states across the country that criminalize undercover investigations into animal agriculture and slaughter plants. It brands such enterprises as acts of terrorism.
The question at the heart of the case is what exactly involves the definition of “terrorism,” as many environmentalists carry out what they claim are non-violent tactics used to expose industries with a history of abusing animals.
Rachel Meerpol, a senior staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights, is representing the plaintiffs in the case.
“Dozens of exposés in recent years have revealed the brutality of these facilities, and the industry has pushed back hard, doing everything in its means to stop the video footage from being published,” Meerpol wrote in a Huffington Post piece earlier this month as the trial began. “As with the AETA, ag-gag laws seek to silence animal rights activists and keep the public in the dark.”
The law was rushed through Congress by lobbyists affiliated with biomedical and agribusiness industry groups such as the Animal Enterprise Protection Coalition, the American Legislative Exchange Council, and the Center for Consumer Freedom, with bipartisan support from Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Rep. James Sensenbrenner and others.
The new law replaces the previous, similar law, the Animal Enterprise Protection Act, which had become law in 1992, according to the CCR’s website.
In effect, AETA silences the peaceful and lawful protest activities of animal and environmental advocates.
“As corporations become more powerful and politicians become more indebted to corporate interests, we’re likely to see further erosion of First Amendment protection for advocacy that threatens their profits,” Meerpol said.
And profits are the main motivation behind companies like Monsanto or Tyson.
Rolling Stone published a damning piece in December called “Animal Cruelty Is the Price We Pay for Cheap Meat,” largely supplied with material by Mercy for Animals, an organization dedicated to uncovering the unethical and deplorable practices of the meat industries.
The Boston case, known as Blum vs. Holder, will test how far the federal government can help shield the plant and animal industries from activists attempting to push for reform.
The American Legislative Exchange Council — a secretive, back-room lobbying coalition that represents corporate interests and harnesses conservative state legislative power to write and pass pro-industry policy, is 98% funded by corporations according to the Center for Media and Democracy.
Given this fact, animal rights activists may have a hard time overcoming AETA.