Analysis of AETA as it Passed Senate (S. 3880)

This is an update and extension of a more detailed analysis of the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, most of which has not been altered in the House.

Perfuming a pig. That’s the best that can be said of the revised version of the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act rushed through the Senate on the last night before Congressional recess. The legislation is still vague, still overly broad, and still a direct threat to basic First Amendment rights — lawmakers just tried to sweeten the stench.

Instead of substituting amendments to change specific lines of the bill — or, more appropriately, rejecting the bill in its entirety — Senator Diane Feinstein, a Democrat from California, made a last-minute complete substitution. The rewritten “eco-terrorism” legislation passed by unanimous consent. Not one Senator opposed.

It’s clear that Feinstein’s revisions were a direct response to civil liberties concerns. That’s a good thing. But let’s take a closer look at the “fixes” in this legislation, and the problems that still remain.

For reference, you can download pdf files of S.3880 and H.R.4239.


*The Senate bill spells out that activists must damage “real property.” S.3880 says the law targets anyone who

intentionally damages or causes the loss of any real or personal property (including animals or records) used by animal enterprise, or any real or personal property of a person or entity having a connection to, relationship with, or transactions with an animal enterprise. [emphasis added]

Compare the same clause to the existing House version, which targets anyone who “intentionally damages, or causes the loss of any property…”

At best, this is a baby step in the right direction. It shows that lawmakers have heard civil liberties concerns that the overly broad language in the bill could sweep in basic First Amendment activity that threatens corporate profits. This language is a bit more specific, bringing the law more in line with its alleged intent: targeting illegal, underground actions in the name of animal rights.

*The Senate bill rewrites the “civil disobedience clause” in the penalties section of the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act.

The previous Senate version, and the current House version, spell out:

(1) for an offense involving exclusively a non-violent physical obstruction of an animal enterprise or a business having a connection to, or relationship with, an animal enterprise, that may result in loss of profits but does not result in bodily injury or death or property damage or loss–
(A) not more than $10,000 and the length of imprisonment shall be not more than 6 months, or both, for the first offense; and
(B) not more than $25,000 and the length of imprisonment shall be not more than 18 months, or both, for a subsequent offense; [emphasis added]

The revised Senate version entirely cuts out this penalty section, including all references to “non-violent physical obstruction,” undoubtedly a response to public outrage that a “terrorism” bill could target non-violent civil disobedience.

Instead, the revised penalties section goes straight into the second penalty item, which says punishment shall be:

(1) a fine under this title or imprisonment not more than 1 year, or both, if the offense does not instill in another the reasonable fear of serious bodily injury or death and–
(A) the offense results in no economic damage or bodily injury; or
(B) the offense results in economic damage that does not exceed $10,000;

Cutting the civil disobedience clause was a very minor improvement. But ultimately it is meaningless because other language in the penalties section can achieve the same result. The law still spells out penalties for actions that don’t “instill in another the reasonable fear of serious bodily injury” and “results in no economic damage.” No reasonable person would consider activity like that to be “terrorism.”