Animal “Terrorism”

Looks like there’s a Constitutional challenge happening in San Jose.  At issue, in a nutshell, is whether the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act is overbroad and squelches legitimate free speech.  (Source.)

The law, codified at 18 U.S.C. § 43 reads, in pertinent part, as:

(a) Offense.— Whoever travels in interstate or foreign commerce, or uses or causes to be used the mail or any facility of interstate or foreign commerce—

(1) for the purpose of damaging or interfering with the operations of an animal enterprise; and
(2) in connection with such purpose—
(A) intentionally damages or causes the loss of any real or personal property (including animals or records) used by an 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;
(B) intentionally places a person in reasonable fear of the death of, or serious bodily injury to that person, a member of the immediate family (as defined in section 115) of that person, or a spouse or intimate partner of that person by a course of conduct involving threats, acts of vandalism, property damage, criminal trespass, harassment, or intimidation; or
(C) conspires or attempts to do so;
shall be punished as provided for in subsection (b).

(d) Definitions.— As used in this section—

(1) the term “animal enterprise” means—
(A) a commercial or academic enterprise that uses or sells animals or animal products for profit, food or fiber production, agriculture, education, research, or testing;
(B) a zoo, aquarium, animal shelter, pet store, breeder, furrier, circus, or rodeo, or other lawful competitive animal event; or
(C) any fair or similar event intended to advance agricultural arts and sciences;
(2) the term “course of conduct” means a pattern of conduct composed of 2 or more acts, evidencing a continuity of purpose;
(3) the term “economic damage”—
(A) means the replacement costs of lost or damaged property or records, the costs of repeating an interrupted or invalidated experiment, the loss of profits, or increased costs, including losses and increased costs resulting from threats, acts or vandalism, property damage, trespass, harassment, or intimidation taken against a person or entity on account of that person’s or entity’s connection to, relationship with, or transactions with the animal enterprise; but
(B) does not include any lawful economic disruption (including a lawful boycott) that results from lawful public, governmental, or business reaction to the disclosure of information about an animal enterprise;
(4) the term “serious bodily injury” means—
(A) injury posing a substantial risk of death;
(B) extreme physical pain;
(C) protracted and obvious disfigurement; or
(D) protracted loss or impairment of the function of a bodily member, organ, or mental faculty; and
(5) the term “substantial bodily injury” means—
(A) deep cuts and serious burns or abrasions;
(B) short-term or nonobvious disfigurement;
(C) fractured or dislocated bones, or torn members of the body;
(D) significant physical pain;
(E) illness;
(F) short-term loss or impairment of the function of a bodily member, organ, or mental faculty; or
(G) any other significant injury to the body.
(e) Rules of Construction.— Nothing in this section shall be construed—

(1) to prohibit any expressive conduct (including peaceful picketing or other peaceful demonstration) protected from legal prohibition by the First Amendment to the Constitution;
(2) to create new remedies for interference with activities protected by the free speech or free exercise clauses of the First Amendment to the Constitution, regardless of the point of view expressed, or to limit any existing legal remedies for such interference; or
(3) to provide exclusive criminal penalties or civil remedies with respect to the conduct prohibited by this action, or to preempt State or local laws that may provide such penalties or remedies.

Violating the statute could potentially lead to spending up to life in prison (if death occurs), but there is a sliding scale, pegging the penalty at a maximum of 1, 5, 10, or 20 years imprisonment depending on the physical harm and/or economic damage caused.  (18 U.S.C. § 43(b))

So, what is being argued here?  You can go to the Civil Liberties Defense Center, which has filed a brief (PDF) to dismiss the indictment, to find out.