Full-Court Press in the Courts
Back in the late 1950s, The HSUS printed this mission statement on its membership cards: “Every Field of Humane Work—EVERYWHERE." But even our founders could not have anticipated how today The HSUS and its affiliates bring so many tools to the fight.
The recent landmark legal victory in the International Court of Justice against Japan’s commercial whaling activities in the Southern Ocean has had me thinking about our work in the courts. In 2005, my colleague Mike Markarian and I reached out to Jonathan Lovvorn, then an attorney at a public interest law firm, about heading and building a dedicated legal unit for animals. Less than a decade later, we’ve grown our team to 24 litigators—aided by a network of over 1,000 pro bono lawyers from the nation’s top law firms—and this team is working like never before to help all animals, on both the domestic and international stages, and to bring new levels of firepower to our cause.
Fifteen years ago, the Humane Society International’s legal team helped devise the theory under which Australia would take Japan to court over its illegal whaling. But it’s our current legal team that is developing a skilled approach to animal law, developing ideas about how to defend animals under contemporary legal frameworks, and putting those ideas into play in the courts.
Our international legal team has been working to defend the European Union’s historic ban on the sale of seal products. Canada and Norway have challenged Europe’s ban at the World Trade Organization (WTO), in yet another attempt to prop up their collapsing sealing industries. It hasn’t been enough to close markets for seal products; we’ve had to work hard to defend those trade restrictions in the international sphere. We’ve already scored one big victory in the WTO’s recent ruling upholding Europe’s ban–the first time that a WTO panel has upheld a law on moral grounds for animal welfare reasons, and a fantastic precedent for future action to stop the global trade in exotic wildlife, ivory and other cruelly produced products. Now the case is on appeal, and our team is there, fighting for all commercially hunted seals.
On the domestic front, our team has been working to block a lawsuit trying to roll back California’s protections for egg-laying hens. In 2008, we passed landmark reform for California’s farm animals through Proposition 2, and two years later we persuaded California’s legislature to extend Proposition 2’s protections to all eggs sold in the state. That infuriated factory farmers, who have persuaded six states—Alabama, Kentucky, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma and the Governor of Iowa – to sue California in a last-ditch effort to overturn its protections for egg-laying hens. Our litigators are determined to stop them, and we’ve brought in heavyweight pro bono partners from the law firms Latham & Watkins and Schiff Hardin to help our team defend this farm animal protection law.
In fact, our litigators have been very active in protecting humane progress in California recently. In the last few months, they’ve successfully defended California laws banning the sale of both shark fins and foie gras. We advocated strongly for the passage of both laws which ban two cruel practices—cutting the fins off live sharks before dumping them back into the ocean to drown, and force-feeding geese and ducks so their livers blow up to several times their normal size. But once we helped to pass these laws, we faced inevitable lawsuits from special interests who claimed, incredibly, that they had a constitutional right to continue these abusive practices. In the end, our litigators helped persuade federal courts to reject both challenges, with both courts ruling that the laws expressed California’s legitimate interest in combating cruelty.
That sentiment was strengthened by a $155 million judgment that our litigators secured in California (though the defendants were only able to pay $4 million of that amount to the federal government, and a smaller share to The HSUS). The judgment came in a government fraud lawsuit filed by The HSUS and later joined by the Department of Justice, stemming from our 2008 undercover investigation into the Hallmark Westland slaughter plant in Chino, California. That investigation revealed shocking and widespread mistreatment of “downed” dairy cows – cows who are too sick or injured to walk.
And, of course, our litigators have continued to fight in our long-running battle to end the slaughter of American horses. When the ban on the federal inspection of horse slaughter expired last year, they partnered with Front Range Equine Rescue to save horses from slaughter. While our federal affairs team advocated on Capitol Hill for a legislative solution, our litigators successfully stopped any horse slaughter plants from opening here. That teamwork resulted in a ban on horse slaughter on American soil, and we are now working to adopt a federal legislative ban on exports of live horses for slaughter to Canada and Mexico.
Our legal team consults with law enforcement, drafts state and federal legislation, advises community advocates on legal strategies to help animals, brings critical cases and so much more. It’s as if the animals have a major law firm working for them every day, helping drive reform and bringing new and critical gains to the cause of protecting all animals.