Provocative Lawsuits, And The Constitutional Rights Of Killer Whales (II)

I’m happy to report that sanity reigns in San Diego — in the federal court, at least.

Only two days after hearing argument, U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Miller dismissed a silly lawsuit brought by the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals that argued that five killer whales are subject to the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and were being held in “slavery” by Sea World.  The judge ruled, quite correctly, that the 13th Amendment applies only to humans, and stated:  “As ‘slavery’ and ‘involuntary servitude’ are uniquely human activities, as those terms have been historically and contemporaneously applied, there is simply no basis to construe the Thirteenth Amendment as applying to non-humans.”

PETA’s lawyer says the organization will now decide how to proceed, and presumably will consider whether to appeal the dismissal of the case to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals — traditionally viewed as the most liberal of the various federal appellate courts.  If PETA decides not to appeal to that forum, it will tell us a lot about whether the whole purpose of the lawsuit was simply to elicit the publicity that PETA craves.

Provocative Lawsuits, And The Constitutional Rights Of Killer Whales

The BBC reports on a lawsuit by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals against Sea World.  The case argues that killer whales have rights just as humans do and that keeping such whales in captivity violates the constitutional prohibition against slavery.

The lawsuit is pending in federal court in San Diego and purportedly was brought by five killer whales as the plaintiffs.  The court held a hearing yesterday to determine whether the lawsuit could proceed.  The BBC article above quotes the lawyer for the killer whales as saying:  “For the first time in our nation’s history, a federal court heard arguments as to whether living, breathing, feeling beings have rights and can be enslaved simply because they happen to not have been born human.  By any definition these orcas have been enslaved here.”

I was sorry to read these news articles, because the principal point of such lawsuits seems to be to attract media attention.  No rational person, or lawyer, could really contend that our constitutional protections were written to protect, or should be read to extend to, killer whales or any other animal.  But such provocative lawsuits allow advocacy organizations, for the price of a filing fee, to gain a platform from which to espouse their views and then hope that any resulting news coverage will encourage like-minded people who read such articles to contribute to the cause.

The news media would do us all a favor by ignoring this kind of legal grandstanding.  I suppose I should, too.