FoodPolitik: The right to arm bears?

Richard Berman President, Berman and Company
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Recently at The Daily Caller, Wesley Smith aptly exposed the goal of the eco-fringe to codify legal rights for Mother Nature. There’s an equal and more urgent threat to our legal system, coming from a common ally of the environmental movement: Animal rights activists.

The founding fathers began the Constitution with the words, “We the People,” but that could all soon turn on its head. The notorious animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is suing SeaWorld, claiming that the company’s ownership of killer whales amounts to “slavery” in violation of the Thirteenth Amendment.

Nothing has so clearly illuminated the end goal of the animal rights movement: To give animals the same rights as people.

Let’s first differentiate between animal welfare and animal rights. Animal welfare includes passing reasonable legal protections for animals. There’s nothing wrong with criminalizing animal abuse. Animal rights, however, means giving legal “personhood” to animals, which opens up a whole new set of tools (can of worms, really) for radical activists who think using animals is wrong.

To give animals standing to sue or pursue implied contract rights would overturn hundreds of years of law that considers animals property. (Property can’t sue, after all.) Thankfully, we have an idea of the unintended consequences of radically rewriting legal theory.

In Switzerland, the canton of Zurich has a government-appointed animal lawyer whose job it is to go after humans on often frivolous charges. A Swiss fisherman was hauled into court after it took him too long (10 minutes) to reel in a pike. This Swiss animal lawyer also “represented” fish used in a game show — because they weren’t treated with “dignity.”

It’s no surprise that the Swiss heavily rejected a ballot measure last year to expand this legal foolishness to other parts of the country.

There’s a clear line between animal welfare and animal rights when it comes to the judicial system. Currently animals are considered property, but that doesn’t mean you can do whatever you want to them. Dogfighting is illegal, as is treating pets cruelly. There are regulations for how animals used for medical research are to be treated.

Giving animals rights reserved to humans, however, is not an appetizing prospect. Consider the ability of PETA to sue in court “on behalf of” animals. PETA’s co-founder opposes seeing-eye dogs and has said that the group would oppose medical research using animals even if it led to a cure for AIDS.

Under PETA’s logic, blind people could be sued for “enslaving” seeing-eye dogs. Medical research would be stymied. (Since 1982 the Nobel Prize has gone to 58 scientists for work that used research animals.)

Self-anointed groups that “speak for animals” would go crazy in court. The Humane Society of the United States has a budget of $126 million and a staff of more than 30 lawyers. This and other anti-meat activist groups — the folks who think a glass of milk is animal cruelty — would sue Old MacDonald back to the Stone Age.

They say they can speak for the dairy cows, after all.

And why stop there? Next thing you know, a grizzly bear that mauls hikers would be entitled to a trial by jury or perhaps PETA will sue for a constitutional right for bears to bear arms.

Humans have legal rights because we’re a unique species with higher mental abilities. A favorite strategy of animal-rights advocates is to liken cognitive abilities of animals to those of humans, arguing that pigs and orcas are mentally comparable to 3-year-olds. But there’s a clear difference — orcas aren’t getting any smarter.

The quest to give legal rights to animals has more support than you’d think. Cass Sunstein, who runs the White House’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, has written that animals should be given standing to sue humans in court (presumably with taxpayer funds for court-appointed lawyers). And the Humane Society of the United States (not to be confused with your local humane society) has published fundraising material exploring animals’ potential access to the courts.

Compared to the “nature rights” movement, animal rights is a much more real threat. The next generation of animal activist lawyers is being developed in law schools such as Lewis & Clark in Oregon, which is the first in the country to offer an advanced degree in animal law.

More than 100 law schools now offer animal law classes, including the top 10, and there are more than 150 chapters of the Student Animal Legal Defense Fund.

There’s no reason we can’t protect animal welfare in law — as we do — without trying to subvert the U.S. Constitution and change the legal system to one of animal “rights.” But in the near future, we may see one or more of PETA’s philosophical allies appointed to the federal bench.

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Richard Berman