By Joshua Wolson
Special to the Legal
Sure, you read that headline and you laugh. But that could be the logical conclusion of a claim pending in the Southern District of California in which PETA has sued SeaWorld, claiming that SeaWorld’s killer whales are “slaves” protected by the 13th Amendment. It is unclear whether the case will survive a motion to dismiss – though I’m willing to lay odds on “no.”
I will not presume to dissect the merits of the case in this limited space (pun intended). However, the notion that animals have civil rights is troubling on several levels. For example, are service animals slaves? There does not seem to be a distinction between them and the whales at SeaWorld, other than someone’s view about the nobility of their respective callings. Indeed, Ingrid Newkirk of PETA has publicly said that PETA’s goal is “total animal liberation.” What about animals being raised for food? Do their “civil rights” prevent them from being killed?
Ultimately, whether or not you are an originalist, it seems hard to argue that anyone has ever understood the rights embodied in the Constitution to apply to animals. Certainly, no one has argued that animals have the right to vote, or to practice religion, or to own a weapon. Instead, the legal means by which we protect animals is through animal cruelty statutes – laws, not constitutional rights. And the rules in those statutes apply to people and are enforced by people. They do not invest rights in animals.
Still, the lawsuit might be a harbinger of things to come. I’m waiting for the day that the dog across the way that barks all night invokes its right to free speech and political protest. I guess I’ll just have to sit down and talk to it about time, place and manner restrictions.
Joshua D. Wolson is a partner in the litigation department at Dilworth Paxson. He can be reached at 215-575-7295 or firstname.lastname@example.org.