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January 07, 2013

Shark Fin ‘Shingles’ Reminder of California’s Humane Reforms

Last week, I came across a disturbing video and still photos of neatly arranged shark fins on a rooftop in Hong Kong. It almost looked like some symmetrical art and architectural concept – with fins in place of shingles. But it was no green or LEED design; it was just the opposite. Unfortunately, I know all too well the back story of what happens to sharks for the fin trade: capture, mutilation, and certain death, by the tens of millions. And all for a bowl of shark fin soup.

Shark-fin-advocate-270x240
Alex Hofford/Hong Kong Shark Foundation
Among the thousands of shark fins found on the rooftop,
a local advocate in Hong Kong holds a photo of a finned
shark, unable to swim.

The HSUS is fighting this trade internationally and domestically, and last week, a federal court upheld HSUS-backed California legislation prohibiting the possession and sale of shark fins, rejecting a challenge by local merchants and distributors who claim that the law violates the U.S. Constitution. The HSUS’s legal team intervened in the lawsuit, and our arguments figured heavily in the judge’s decision. A similar case pending in the state court is still awaiting disposition, and The HSUS is defending that case as well.

Also in California, The HSUS’s legal team has been very busy of late defending lawsuits filed by certain elements of the state’s egg industry. In 2011, a state court rejected the first lawsuit filed concerning Proposition 2 after The HSUS intervened to defend the measure. But unfortunately, that didn’t end the matter. In 2012, another lawsuit was filed, in which The HSUS also intervened. This past September, a federal court upheld Prop 2 on its merits, ruling that it “establishes a clear test that any law enforcement officer can apply, and that test does not require the investigative acumen of Columbo to determine if an egg farmer is in violation of the statute.” The court admonished the plaintiff for even filing the lawsuit: “[T]he mere fact that Plaintiff dislikes or disagrees with the policy or language of Proposition 2 is not sufficient to sustain a constitutional challenge.” 

But no less than two months later, a third lawsuit was filed, again arguing that Prop 2 was somehow unclear, and that the federal court somehow got it wrong. The HSUS moved to intervene in that case as well, and has asked the court to finally put an end to the legal bickering, and get on with the process of implementing Prop 2 by its January 2015 deadline.

The HSUS’s legal team has also had recent success in defending California’s law prohibiting the cruel forced feeding of ducks for the production of foie gras, which went into effect in 2012. In September, a federal judge in Los Angeles rejected a request to enjoin the new law, and the matter is now on appeal in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Later today, our legal team will be filing briefing with the court, asking that the law continue to be enforced in California.

Other legal fights over California’s recent humane reforms are in the works. Some legal cases drag on for years, and it takes resolve and resources to see them to their end. The battles are partly in response to the great success we’ve had in the state legislature and through the initiative process (we’ve rated California as the top state for the enactment of animal protection policies since our rating system started in 2009). The fur trapping and ranching lobbies, for example, are still fighting with us over Proposition 4, and this is 15 years after voters approved a ban on cruel and indiscriminate traps and poisons. Fortunately, we’ve won every ruling to date, and we are resolved to fight our adversaries in the years ahead to defend this humane-minded law.

Passing laws is just part of the process of protecting animals. The HSUS’s litigation unit works to make sure that the laws we help pass go into effect and are vigorously implemented. To be sure, The HSUS prefers to negotiate, and in many instances we have been able to come together with industry to jointly implement humane reforms. But for those outliers that are considering hiring teams of lawyers to try and stop our progress, they would be well-advised to reconsider having to grapple with The HSUS’s legal team, which is composed of our in-house and outside counsel working together. With the courts being one of the most important battlegrounds in animal protection, The HSUS is there.

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