Selected Articles from our
The C.A.S.H. Courier
ARTICLE from the Spring 2008 Issue
Unequal Justice Under Law
By Peter Muller
A fundamental basis of the Constitution is that all citizens are
entitled to equal protection under law. This is usually interpreted to
ensure that all citizens are treated equally when rights and privileges
are granted by federal, state and local legislation.
Let’s say that a state
legislature sets qualifications for obtaining driving permits, then
those requirements apply to all citizens. It would be a violation of the
Equal Protection Amendment to require all applicants, except dental
technicians, to take a road test for driving permits. Unless the state
can show that the state has a compelling interest in granting driving
permits to dental technicians without requiring a road test, the law
would be stricken down as unconstitutional.
Yet we now see a
plethora of federal and state laws granting special protection to
individuals and corporations engaged in some form of animal abuse. These
laws continue to be challenged in state and federal courts on various
grounds, including the First Amendment. It’s time to additionally
challenge these laws from the perspective of equal protection.
The oldest of these
“special animal-abuse protection” laws (I’ll be referring to them as
“SAP-Laws” in this article) are probably the various state hunter
There are many
egregious violations of justice that have come to our attention in
connection with enforcement of hunter harassment laws. One that we’ve
cited before is the case of Jan Haagensen, a land-owner and an attorney
in Pennsylvania. Jan was charged with six counts of hunter harassment
after she told a hunting party that was approaching her on her own land
not to trespass.
Rather than accept a
plea-bargain, which would have resulted in a nominal fee, Jan decided to
fight the charges in court. As expected, she lost in the local
“good-ole-boys court” where the “judges” are political hacks appointed
by the political party in power who have neither legal training nor
Jan won in appellate
court when the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania failed to even file a
response to her appeal and, in fact, withdrew from the case. In a sense,
they just walked away from case without even attempting to justify the
trial court’s decision. Thereby demonstrating again that the local trial
courts continue to make ludicrous decisions that can’t be explained,
much less defended, by anybody with a basic understanding of law.
takes a great deal of financial backing to reverse these miscarriages of
justice. Jan is currently in the process of seeking funding to
bring her civil case against local law enforcement forward.
Very typical of these
SAP-Law cases – the prosecution knows that the charges are bogus. They
put defendants in a bind to choose between alternatives:
A) plead guilty to a
misdemeanor and pay a $100 fine
B) spend $10,000 in legal fees and five to ten days in court to win your
Most activists choose
alternative A and get on with their activism.
Although there are variations in the provisions of these statutes they
all make the same basic points:
The Michigan DNR gives
this brief layman’s description of the Michigan Hunter Harassment
“Hunters in Michigan
have the right to enjoy their sport free from unreasonable and
deliberate interference from those opposed to hunting asa legitimate use
of public land and other natural resources.
Michigan law prohibits
individuals from obstructing or interfering with the lawful taking of
animals. The Department of Natural Resources supports hunting as a
legitimate form of recreation.”
The language of the
various Hunter Harassment Statutes varies but the intent is basically
captured by the Michigan DNR’s description.
Let’s look at the logical structure of the law abstractly without the
substantive reference to hunting:
There is a
recreational activity which is legal; this law prohibits individuals
opposed to the recreational activity from interfering with it.
Why should hunters be
entitled to this special protection but not those engaged in other
What if somebody
interferes with a game of golf?
What if somebody
interferes with a chess game?
It’s annoying to the
participants, to be sure, but it’s not illegal to interfere with the
There may be attendant
illegal actions accompanying the interference (trespass, disorderly
conduct, assault etc.); there may be cause for civil tort litigation for
damages sustained against the person interfering with the activity.
But interference, per se, is not illegal.
It’s characteristic of
these SAP-Laws that they grant special protection to animal abuse
activities but do not regulate similar activities that do not involve
animal abuse. Why should not all those who engage in recreational
activities be entitled to equal protection under law?
The “Mother of all SAP-Laws” is the Animal Enterprise
Terrorism Act (AETA) enacted in November of 2006.
It criminalizes conduct that interferes
with the profits or operations of an “animal enterprise.”
The heart of the Act says substantially:
Whoever travels across
state lines, or uses mail or any facility of interstate commerce — for
the purpose of damaging or interfering with the operations of an animal
enterprise; and in connection with such purpose, intentionally damages
or causes the loss of property, including loss of profits, to an animal
enterprise, or any entity having transactions with an animal enterprise;
shall be punished as follows:
1) Imprisonment for
not more than 10 years, if the offense results in economic damage
2) Imprisonment for
not more than 20 years, if the offense results in economic damage
What the Act says in essence is that if you or your
group is contemplating an action, and the following elements are
present, you can be prosecuted under AETA:
1) Interstate communication is involved;
that element is easy to meet; if you send
an announcement of your demo or boycott to an AR-listserv, or call
friends in neighboring states, you’re in.
2) You intend to cause economic damage to your target
company. That’s what boycotts,
advertisements, and demonstrations are all about: after all, we are
trying to persuade potential customers to go elsewhere until the abusive
practice is remedied.
3) The target is an animal enterprise.
AETA is prima facie in conflict
with the First Amendment. The act has a “weasel clause” that says:
Nothing in this section shall be construed— to prohibit any expressive
conduct (including peaceful picketing or other peaceful demonstration)
protected from legal prohibition by the First Amendment to the
Constitution; Many animal rights activists and other social justice
activists may on occasion resort to civil disobedience to call attention
to the wrongdoing which they are attempting to correct. Sometimes an
activist just has to say, “No, I will not move to the back of the bus.”
Or “No I will not move my demonstration around the corner behind the
gas-station; I have a perfect right to be here.”
Civil disobedience is
a perfectly respectable tool in a social justice advocate’s tool-bag,
and it is in keeping with the best of American traditions and culture.
The usual misdemeanor charges that come out of an act of civil
disobedience, such as: trespassing, disorderly conduct, failure to obey
a lawful order of a police officer, conspiracy to litter, etc. are
easily disposed of in trial court with dismissal or a small fine. Under
AETA these very minor misdemeanors become a major felony which carries a
10-20 year sentence instead of a $50 fine.
Why are “animal
enterprises” singled out for this protection? What about
car-manufacturers, bookstores, movie theaters? If all corporate
citizens are entitled to equal protection under law – why are only
animal-abusive enterprises afforded this special protection?
It seem quite clear
that at federal, state, and local levels, special protection is granted
to animal abusers which is withheld from other who practice a similar
activity not involving explicit animal abuse. It’s time to challenge
these laws on several fronts – including the First and the 14th
Peter Muller is the vice president of C.A.S.H.