One of the most frivolous and disgusting lawsuits in recent memory was heard before a federal court in San Diego this week. PETA, a group that is supposed to stand for “ethical treatment,” filed a lawsuit claiming that SeaWorld had violated the 13th Amendment rights of orcas in its theme park. This is not a story from The Onion. It is a sad but true story that demonstrates PETA’s depravity, as well as the tremendous waste and inefficiency in our legal system.
The 13th Amendment was passed to outlaw slavery and end one of the most disgraceful chapters in American history. But this week, an attorney for PETA claimed that SeaWorld was keeping orcas as slaves and therefore violating their 13th Amendment rights. If this argument weren’t so vile and frivolous, I’d be inclined to laugh.
To compare the suffering of African-American slaves to the plight of animals in an amusement park is inexcusable. The 13th Amendment was clearly passed to outlaw human slavery, in which one race subjected another to a life of forced servitude and took away their rights, dignity, and freedom.
True, we should also protect animals. And we do, through the use of many criminal laws against those who mistreat and abuse animals, including those at SeaWorld.
But it is not slavery as defined by the 13th Amendment to keep animals in a water tank while SeaWorld charges admission (even though I personally don’t approve of it). If this were slavery, couldn’t PETA argue that domesticated cats and dogs are also slaves under the 13th Amendment? I think PETA would answer yes. And if they could, I’m sure they would bring millions of lawsuits to free every cat and dog in this country (and maybe even some of the goldfish that kids keep in water tanks in their bedrooms).
SeaWorld’s lawyer was Professor Ted Shaw, the former director of the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund and someone I know personally. Professor Shaw is a distinguished and accomplished lawyer. But due to PETA’s frivolous lawsuit, he was forced to waste everyone’s time by coming to court to argue that animals don’t have standing to sue. It’s almost laughable. Thankfully, the federal judge agreed with SeaWorld’s arguments and dismissed PETA’s lawsuit.
This case is an extreme example of the drain that frivolous lawsuits impose on our legal system and our financial and intellectual resources. But every day, cases nearly as meritless work their way through our court system, wasting everyone’s time, money, and efforts. First, PETA should be condemned for its behavior. Then, Americans should look more closely at how broken and fractured our legal system has become.
David Meyers served in the White House from 2006 to 2009, and later in the United States Senate. He is currently pursuing graduate studies at Columbia University. His personal website is DavidRossMeyers.com.