Blum v. Holder Historic Case

At a Glance

Current Status 

On March 12, 2013, the District Court dismissed the suit, ruling that plaintiffs did not have standing to bring the case. On March 7, 2014 the First Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed that dismissal.  On November 10, 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the case.

Date Filed: 

December 15, 2011

Co-Counsel 

Alexander Reinert, Associate Professor Cardozo Law School; Law Offices of Howard Friedman PC.

Client 

Sarahjane Blum, Ryan Shapiro, Lauren Gazzola, J Johnson, Lana Lehr

Case Description 

Enacted in November 2006, the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA) punishes a wide swath of speech and other advocacy protected by the First Amendment, when that activism is directed at animal enterprises. 

Pushed through Congress by a powerful lobby of pharmaceutical corporations and groups like the Fur Commission USA, the United Egg Producers, and the American Meat Institute, the AETA punishes intending to “interfere” with, and causing a loss of property (which includes profits) to, a business or other entity that uses or sells animals or animal products, or which has “a connection to, relationship with, or transactions with an animal enterprise.”  The statute does not actually describe what conduct is prohibited; it criminalizes only having a particular purpose (interfering with an animal enterprise) and effect (causing “loss”).  Property loss is not limited to that caused by illegal activity but could also include loss caused by boycotts, whistle-blowing, and other expression protected by the First Amendment.  The AETA also elevates what would normally be state-level property crimes and minor charges – such as vandalism or civil disobedience – into a federal crime of terrorism, when this protest activity is directed at an animal enterprise or its affiliates and when the activity involves an interstate component (such as use of a cell phone).  Of course, to date the law has only been used against animal rights activists.

 

Non-violent protesters charged under the AETA face up to twenty years in prison, depending on the amount of profit loss that results from their actions.  Moreover, though the law targets animal rights activists specifically, it is written so broadly that it could turn a successful labor protest at Wal-Mart, which sells animal products, into an act of domestic terrorism.

The AETA amended the 1992 Animal Enterprise Protection Act (AEPA), which punished causing a “physical disruption” to an animal enterprise. In 2006, six activists were convicted in New Jersey for conspiring to violate the AEPA, and served between one and six years in prison for publishing a website that advocated and reported on protest activity against an animal testing lab, its business affiliates, and their employees. The activists were not accused of injuring anyone or vandalizing any property, or attempting to do so. One of the defendants in that case, CCR Communications Associate Lauren Gazzola, became a plaintiff in Blum.

Blum was filed on behalf of five long-time animal rights activists whose speech and other activism had been chilled out of fear that they could be prosecuted as terrorists under the AETA.

Blum v. Holder is part of CCR’s broader efforts to push back against the criminalization of dissent and, in particular, to defend animal rights and environmental activists targeted by government and corporate repression as part of the Green Scare.

 

Case Timeline

November 10, 2014

The U.S. Supreme Court denies cert

November 10, 2014

The U.S. Supreme Court denies cert

October 21, 2014

CCR replies to government's opposition to CCR cert petition

October 21, 2014

CCR replies to government's opposition to CCR cert petition

October 6, 2014

Government opposes CCR's cert. petition

October 6, 2014

Government opposes CCR's cert. petition

September 2, 2014

Animal researchers file amicus brief in support of the government's opposition to CCR's cert petition

September 2, 2014

Animal researchers file amicus brief in support of the government's opposition to CCR's cert petition

August 5, 2014

Plaintiffs file a Pettion for Writ of Certorari with the U.S. Supreme Court

August 5, 2014

Plaintiffs file a Pettion for Writ of Certorari with the U.S. Supreme Court

Plaintiffs requested that the Supreme Court grant, vacate, and remand the case in light of its recent decision in Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus,  in which it affirmed the applicability of the pre-Clapper standard for standing to bring a pre-enforcement challenge to a criminal law.

May 6, 2014

Court of Appeals denies petition for en banc review

May 6, 2014

Court of Appeals denies petition for en banc review

April 21, 2014

Plaintiffs file a Petition for Rehearing and Rehearing En Banc in the First Circiut Court of Appeals

April 21, 2014

Plaintiffs file a Petition for Rehearing and Rehearing En Banc in the First Circiut Court of Appeals

March 7, 2014

First Circuit Court of Appeals affirms the District Court's dismissal

March 7, 2014

First Circuit Court of Appeals affirms the District Court's dismissal

The First Circuit affirmed the District Court’s decision on standing, but used different reasoning.  Instead of construing the statute narrowly, the Court relied on a recent Supreme Court case, Clapper v. Amnesty International, to demand an unprecedented threshold of injury before allowing plaintiffs to sue. The court held that the plaintiffs could not challenge the constitutionality of the AETA because their prosecution as Animal Enterprise Terrorists was not “certainly impending.” The holding contradicts decades of Supreme Court precedent allowing plaintiffs to challenge a law when their speech is chilled based on an objectively reasonable interpretation of the statute, even if there is no imminent threat of prosecution. 

September 9, 2013

CCR files Appellants’ Reply Brief

 

September 9, 2013

CCR files Appellants’ Reply Brief

 

August 26, 2013

Government files Appellee’s Brief

August 26, 2013

Government files Appellee’s Brief

July 29, 2013

ACLU of Massachusetts, ACLU National, and National Lawyers Guild file a joint amicus brief in support of CCR’s appeal; the Association of the Bar of the City of New York also files an amicus brief in support of Appellants

July 29, 2013

ACLU of Massachusetts, ACLU National, and National Lawyers Guild file a joint amicus brief in support of CCR’s appeal; the Association of the Bar of the City of New York also files an amicus brief in support of Appellants

July 22, 2013

CCR appeals to the First Circit Court of Appeals

July 22, 2013

CCR appeals to the First Circit Court of Appeals

March 12, 2013

District Court grants government's Motion to Dismiss

March 12, 2013

District Court grants government's Motion to Dismiss

The court rules that plaintiffs did not have standing to bring the case.  The judge’s ruling is 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.  The court does not address CCR's challenge to the AETA's singling out of threats directed at animal enterprises, within the unprotected category of true threats

August 29, 2012

Oral argument on the Motion to Dismiss

August 29, 2012

Oral argument on the Motion to Dismiss

May 21, 2012

The ACLU of Massachusetts files an amicus brief in support of CCR's oppostion to the government's motion to dismiss the case

May 21, 2012

The ACLU of Massachusetts files an amicus brief in support of CCR's oppostion to the government's motion to dismiss the case

April 6, 2012

CCR opposes government’s Motion to Dismiss

April 6, 2012

CCR opposes government’s Motion to Dismiss

March 19, 2012

Animal researchers file amicus brief in spport of the government's Motion to Dismiss

March 19, 2012

Animal researchers file amicus brief in spport of the government's Motion to Dismiss

March 12, 2012

An organization that advocates the continued use of animals in research files amicus brief in spport of the government's Motion to Dismiss

March 12, 2012

An organization that advocates the continued use of animals in research files amicus brief in spport of the government's Motion to Dismiss

March 9, 2012

Government moves to dismiss the case

March 9, 2012

Government moves to dismiss the case

December 15, 2011

Case is filed in the U.S. District Court in the District of Massachusetts

December 15, 2011

Case is filed in the U.S. District Court in the District of Massachusetts