PETA v. SeaWorld – The Aftermath
A leading animal law attorney discusses the fall-out from the judge’s rulinghttp://www.zoenature.org/2012/02/peta-v ... aftermath/
On Wednesday, Federal Judge Jeffrey Miller ruled against the animal rights group PETA in a suit they had brought against SeaWorld. PETA claimed that five orcas at SeaWorld San Diego were being held as slaves in violation of the 13th Amendment. The judge said that the 13th Amendment didn’t apply since orcas are not “persons.”
After oral argument before the Judge last Monday, PETA’s lead attorney, Jeffrey Kerr, told the media that the case was a great victory for the animals. But animal rights attorney Steven M. Wise, president of the Nonhuman Rights Project, which is preparing to litigate the first cases to gain common law “personhood” for nonhuman animals, says the PETA case did no legal good and actually undermined the development of an emerging animal rights jurisprudence. We asked him to explain why.
Michael Mountain: A lot of people in the animal rights world are saying that even though PETA lost its lawsuit against SeaWorld, it’s a step in the right direction because it got a lot of publicity and people are talking about it all across the world. They believe that at least it accomplished something.
Professor Steven Wise: Sometimes it’s better to do nothing than to do something harmful. The problem with the PETA suit is that it was doomed from the beginning, and we in the Nonhuman
Rights Project immediately recognized that.
When you study legal process you learn that the first cases in a new area often tend to take on an unusual level of importance. When you litigate in a novel area, you want to begin with your strongest suits in the most favorable jurisdictions. The rule for the Nonhuman Rights Project is: Win big and, if we must lose, lose small. PETA had virtually no chance of even winning small and a tremendous chance of losing big.
When the Nonhuman Rights Project starts filing cases, we’ll begin by bringing strong claims in advantageous jurisdictions. What PETA did was to bring weak claims in a disadvantageous jurisdiction, and they were quickly and predictably massacred.
A problem now, in the wake of this decision, is that anyone who brings a lawsuit of any kind and argues that a nonhuman animal is a “legal person” is going to have to deal with the fact that a federal court has found that a nonhuman animal is NOT a person. We will overcome that obstacle. But it didn’t have to be erected in the first place. Until yesterday, when the case came down, that obstacle did not exist.Orcas, slaves and the U.S. Constitution
M.M.: The PETA case was saying that the orcas are slaves under the 13th Amendment. But as I understood it the judge ruled that they can’t be considered slaves in the first place since they’re not persons. Is that right?
Prof. W.: The judge was implicitly and perhaps explicitly saying that the 13th Amendment only applies to humans. We will examine the ruling closely to see if he was saying that the 13th Amendment only applies to persons and orcas aren’t persons, or if he was saying that it only applies to humans and orcas aren’t humans, or if he was implicitly equating persons with humans. In the wake of the famous Citizens United case in which the U.S. Supreme Court reiterated that corporations have First Amendment rights, it is difficult to think he meant the last.
One problem the judge had is that PETA mistakenly believed that they would not have to prove that orcas were “persons.” They weren’t prepared to do that, even though it was the most critical aspect of the suit. The Nonhuman Rights Project understood this from the start, and that’s why we submitted a Friend of the Court memorandum. But being a Friend of the Court only allows one to act narrowly, which was one thing PETA did point out to the judge.
So the judge was left up to his own devices, whereas he should have been carefully educated by PETA’s attorney as to what the term “person” meant and how it could be applied.What happens if PETA appeals
M.M.: Do you think PETA will appeal this now?
Prof. W.: PETA has an absolute right to appeal to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
My wife was in a meeting and a lead attorney for their co. was talking I think "I'm going to have to vote for Obama", distressed b/c he was obviously a Republican. He continued that "The Citizens United case" is going to really screw up all legal ideals of personhood. When Peta argues next time they will win personhood b/c if a corporation can be a person, so can animals. He said "the Right is nothing but crazies now. I either vote for Obama or I don't vote at all".
He was truly struggling with this new awakening in legal ramifications of Citizens United.