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September 03, 2013

Our Lawyers Are (for) Sharks

The most compelling social movements, as they develop and mature, move steadily away from protest and more toward policy-making, as their core ideas go through some amount of skepticism and even ridicule, and then on to serious discussion, emotional acceptance, and then adoption.   

That’s certainly been my experience in animal protection. As the leader of an animal protection group in college in the mid-1980s, it felt like the ideas we were promoting, at least about factory farming and the use of animals in testing, were new and challenging for so many people. Now, more than a quarter century later, there’s widespread acceptance that extreme confinement of animals on farms and the use of animals in painful experiments – especially when there are alternatives – is a moral problem.

In the last decade, The HSUS and affiliated organizations have helped to push for the enactment of 725 new laws to protect all kinds of animals from cruelty and abuse, including about 25 statewide ballot measures. This year alone, state legislators and governors have enacted more than 90 new laws to help animals. 

Shark
Ricardo Azoury

Typically, our political adversaries, once they’ve lost in the legislative arena, then take their objections to the courts. In fact, in the last decade, our opponents have challenged more than two dozen HSUS-backed animal protection laws in the courts (in other cases, they try to repeal the laws in legislatures or to bar us from conducting investigations). 

In every case, The HSUS’ crack litigation unit, led by Senior Vice President Jonathan Lovvorn, has been there to play defense. At the same time, our attorneys initiate a range of offensive actions, especially when government agencies fail to enforce existing laws. This year alone, the litigation team has won more than a dozen victories, including blocking horse slaughter plants from opening in the United States, protecting endangered whales, and blocking bogus “humane” marketing claims about factory farm products. In all, since its establishment in 2005, our Animal Protection Litigation program has initiated more than 125 legal actions and secured more than 100 favorable rulings for animals in state and federal courts. These actions have collectively resulted in millions of animals being spared misery and suffering.

So it was welcome news again last week when we won three major rulings upholding HSUS-sponsored state-based animal protection laws – all in California. The week started off with a major ruling out of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, rejecting various business groups’ lawsuit seeking to overturn California’s ban on shark fins as discriminatory and at odds with federal fisheries laws. The HSUS’ litigation team intervened on behalf of the state, and the court adopted our arguments in full. It’s a big preliminary win for California and for The HSUS, which considers the sale of shark fins to be in the same category as selling ivory trinkets or elephant tusk – all cruel, unnecessary and deeply wasteful of animals who are vital to their ecosystems and to ecotourism.

The next big decision came out of the Superior Court of California in Fresno, which upheld the constitutionality of Proposition 2 – California’s 2008 landmark farm animal protection measure banning the inhumane confinement of egg-laying hens, breeding pigs and veal calves. This was the third unsuccessful lawsuit by some elements in the egg industry trying to overturn the measure, and the third time HSUS lawyers have moved aggressively to defend the measure.

On Thursday we got yet another big decision from the Ninth Circuit, this time upholding California’s ban on the forced-feeding of ducks for foie gras. The ban was enacted in 2004 with the support of mainstream animal protection organizations, including The HSUS, who filed briefing in defense of the measure. Foie gras producers were given seven years to develop alternative methods, but instead waited until the last minute and then sued to strike down the ban. The Ninth Circuit categorically rejected the producers’ arguments, finding that the foie gras law was well within the state's broad authority to prevent animal cruelty.

Over the last few years, the focus of these cases has shifted dramatically from whether to protect animals at all, to an exploration of the limits and interplay of state and federal authority on combatting cruelty and abuse – a question that was unthinkable just a few years ago. With a staff of 20 in-house litigators, and backed by some of the country’s largest law firms working pro bono, The HSUS has an extraordinary capacity that serves the animals and the broader animal protection movement.

To learn more about HSUS’ nationally recognized litigation unit, or to join our team, visit humanesociety.org.

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