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Blum v. Holder is a federal lawsuit challenging the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA) as an unconstitutional infringement on free speech. The plaintiffs are five longtime animal rights activists whose advocacy work has been chilled due to fear of being prosecuted as a terrorist under the AETA.
On August 5, 2014 Plaintiffs filed their Petition for Writ of Certiorari with the Supreme Court of the United States. After an extension of time the government filed its opposition on October 6, 2014.
Blum v. Holder was filed in the U.S. District Court in the District of Massachusetts on December 15, 2011. On March 12, 2013, the District Court granted defendant’s motion to dismiss, ruling that plaintiffs did not have standing to bring the case. On March 7, 2014 the First Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed that dismissal.
Blum v. Holder is a facial challenge to the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA.) Passed by Congress in November 2006, the AETA is aimed at suppressing speech and advocacy surrounding certain industries by criminalizing First Amendment-protected activities such as protests, boycotts, picketing and whistle-blowing. The statute punishes anyone found to have caused the loss of property or profits by a business or other institution that uses or sells animals (or animal products), or has “a connection to, relationship with, or transactions with an animal enterprise.”
Pushed through Congress by a powerful lobby of pharmaceutical corporations and groups like the Fur Commission USA and the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, the AETA is an unconstitutional law because it criminalizes a broad swath of protected First Amendment activities and is so unclear as to fail to give people notice of whether or not their conduct is lawful.
The Blum plaintiffs are animal rights activists from across the country who are chilled from continuing their lawful and important advocacy work based on the broad reach of the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act.
Sarahjane Blum lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where she runs a small business with her husband. In 2003, Sarahjane co-founded GourmetCruelty.com , a grassroots coalition dedicated to exposing the abuse of ducks and geese raised for foie gras. The following year, the group released a short film, Delicacy of Despair, Behind the Closed Doors of the Foie Gras Industry, documenting their investigation of deplorable conditions on foie gras farms, and featuring the “open rescue” of a number of ducks. Sarahjane would like to continue her anti-foie gras work in Minnesota, which has become a significant foie gras producer, without breaking the law. But she is limited in her ability to do so, as the AETA criminalizes campaigns like hers that could cause a foie gras farm to lose profit, or hire extra security.
Ryan Shapiro lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he is completing a PhD at MIT. Ryan’s research focuses on disputes over animals and national security. In particular, his work explores the use of the rhetoric and apparatus of national security to marginalize animal protectionists as threats to American security from the late nineteenth century to the present. A longtime grassroots animal rights activist, Ryan co-founded GourmetCruelty.com with Sarahjane, and has focused much of his activism on factory farming issues. Ryan’s work, along with that of Sarahjane and the rest of the coalition, was instrumental in the 2004 passage of a California State law banning all foie gras production within the State. Ryan holds a degree in film and used these skills to direct Delicacy of Despair. Ryan wishes to further utilize his expertise to document and expose animal exploitation and abuse on factory farms. He is chilled from engaging in this important work, however, because documenting and distributing evidence of animal exploitation and abuse risks prosecution as a terrorist under the AETA. Read Ryan's recent piece, Is Freeing a Duck Terrorism? on Truthout.
Lana Lehr lives in Bethesda, Maryland. She is a licensed psychotherapist, and has been seeing patients in private practice for over 20 years. After adopting a rescued rabbit, Lana became interested in rabbit care and advocacy issues, eventually co-founding RabbitWise , a public charity devoted to preventing the irresponsible acquisition and care of companion rabbits, improving retention rates of rabbits already living in homes, educating people who live with or treat rabbits to give them the best possible care, and advocating for the broader welfare of rabbits in general. Lana used to supplement her rabbit advocacy by organizing and attending lawful, peaceful anti-fur protests in DC, but she is now afraid to attend such protests out of fear that even a lawful protest, which causes a fur store to lose money, would violate the AETA and risk prosecution as a terrorist.
Lauren Gazzola lives in Brooklyn, New York, where she works in the communications department of a non-profit legal organization. Lauren served almost three and a half years in federal prison after being convicted, along with five others, under a prior version of the AETA – The Animal Enterprise Protection Act of 1992. Lauren’s arrest and prosecution arose from her leadership role in Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC), a grassroots campaign devoted to exposing and ending horrific animal abuse at Huntingdon Life Sciences, a corporation made infamous after undercover investigators disclosed footage of researchers dissecting a conscious monkey, repeatedly punching beagle puppies in the face, and other abuse. Lauren and the other SHAC defendants were not prosecuted for personally damaging Huntingdon property but, rather, for running a website that reported on and endorsed legal and illegal protests that caused the company to lose money. Now that she is out of prison, Lauren would like to engage in lawful animal rights work, but she cannot tell what is protected by the First Amendment and what is not, due to the broad reach and vague language of the AETA.
J Johnson also lives in Brooklyn, New York, where he is an undergraduate at The New School. J moved to New York recently, from his native Chicago, where he spent close to a decade organizing protests and educating the public as a leader in the Chicago-area SHAC campaign. He left Chicago due in large part to the erosion there of long standing animal rights networks and his resulting inability to effectively organize demonstrations. Upon arriving in New York, he hoped to connect with others involved in sustainable and strategic animal rights campaigns, but has had trouble finding advocates to work with, due to a chill throughout the animal rights community as whole, based on the targeting of that community as would-be terrorists under the AETA.
CCR filed the lawsuit along with co-counsel Alexander Reinert, an associate professor at Cardozo Law School, and David Milton and Howard Friedman, at the Law Offices of Howard Friedman PC.
December 15, 2011 - Case was filed in the U.S. District Court in the District of Massachusetts.
March 9, 2012 – Government moved to dismiss the case.
March 12, 2012 – Amicus brief by National Association for Biomedical Research and other organization filed in support of Government’s motion to dismiss.
March 19, 2012 – Amicus brief filed by coalition of doctors and researchers in support of Government’s motion to dismiss.
April 6, 2012 – CCR filed opposition to Government’s motion to dismiss.
August 29, 2012 - Oral argument on the Motion to Dismiss.
March 12, 2013 - The District Court granted defendant’s motion to dismiss, ruling that plaintiffs did not have standing to bring the case The judge’s ruling was based on a narrow interpretation of the AETA as criminalizing only property destruction and threats, despite the law’s broad prohibition on causing an animal enterprise any loss of property, which is generally understood to include the loss of profit.
July 22, 2013 – CCR filed Appellants’ Opening Brief.
July 29, 2013 – The ACLU of Massachusetts, the ACLU National, and the National Lawyers Guild filed an amicus brief in support of CCR’s appeal. The Association of the Bar of the City of New York also filed an amicus brief in support of Appellants.
August 26, 2013 – Government filed Appellee’s Brief in response.
September 9, 2013 – CCR filed Appellants’ Reply Brief.
March 7, 2014 - First Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the District Court's dismissal.
On April 21, 2014 Plaintiffs filed their Petition for Rehearing and Rehearing En Banc with the First Circuit Court of Appeals.
On August 5, 2014 Plaintiffs filed their Petition for Writ of Certiorari with the Supreme Court of the United States.