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 harassment statutes.

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 experience.

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.

Unfortunately, it 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 case

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 Statute:

“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 recreational activities?

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 activity.

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 exceeding $100,000.

2) Imprisonment for not more than 20 years, if the offense results in economic damage exceeding $1,000,000.

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 Amendments.
Peter Muller is the vice president of C.A.S.H.


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Committee to Abolish Sport Hunting / C.A.S.H.
P.O. Box 562
New Paltz, NY 12561