N.J. appeals court upholds hunter-harassment law
A New Jersey law that prohibits the harassment of hunters does not violate
the First Amendment, a state appeals court has ruled.
In 1993, the New Jersey Legislature passed the “Hunter Harassment Statute,”
which prohibits anyone from obstructing or attempting to obstruct a person
lawfully hunting wildlife. Another section of the law prohibits “loud noises or
gestures” designed to “disturb, alarm, drive, attract, or affect the behavior of
wildlife … or annoy a person lawfully taking wildlife.”
Three animal-rights advocates challenged the law in September 1997,
contending it violated their First Amendment free-speech and free-assembly
rights by discriminating against their anti-hunting viewpoint. The plaintiffs
also alleged that the law was unconstitutionally vague.
After a state trial court dismissed the claim in February 1998, the
plaintiffs appealed to a state appeals court. Last week, the Superior Court of
New Jersey, Appellate Division, affirmed the lower court ruling and upheld the
The appeals court ruled in Binkowski v. State of New Jersey that the
statute regulates conduct, not speech. The court wrote in its June 24 decision:
“Plaintiffs argue that the Hunter Harassment Statute regulates the content of
speech because it punishes those who espouse an anti-hunting message. We
disagree. By its terms, the statute plainly regulates conduct.”
The court also noted that “the regulated conduct is not sufficiently
expressive to constitute speech.”
“Lest we forget, the statute on its face does not inhibit the exposition of
ideas; it simply bans physical conduct which may or may not be protected by the
First Amendment,” the appeals court wrote.
The court rejected the plaintiffs' argument that the law was overbroad
because it punished individuals who protested against hunting. The appeals court
ruled that it interpreted the law to prohibit harassment of hunters “only in
places where wildlife may be found or in immediate proximity” and “where the
actor's intent is to interfere with the lawful taking of wildlife.”
The appeals court also rejected the plaintiffs' arguments that the law was
unconstitutionally vague. “The terms 'block,' 'obstruct' and 'impede' provide
individuals with a reasonable degree of certainty whether their conduct is
unlawful,” the court found.
Barbara Conklin, deputy attorney general for New Jersey, said the decision
followed well-established precedent. “This law does not infringe on anybody's First Amendment rights,” she said. “The statute regulates conduct, not speech.”
Attorneys for the plaintiffs could not be reached for comment.