Is PETA v. SeaWorld a Bad Idea?

Spencer Lo

 There is no question that, in the ordinary sense of the word, a great many non-human animals are slaves, forced to exist in extremely deleterious conditions to fulfill the wishes of their human masters. Most are untroubled by this fact—slavery over animals has been widely accepted in society for a very long time. Last October, in an effort to reverse this norm, PETA made a radical (some say outrageous) move. They filed a lawsuit against SeaWorld on behalf of five orcas, creatures who have been forced to live in highly confined, unnatural environments, to their detriment, all for the purpose of performing cheap tricks. Their decades-long captivity, according to PETA, violates the constitutional prohibition against slavery (aka the Thirteenth Amendment).

While it may be common sense that the orcas are slaves, from a legal standpoint, PETA is asserting a very radical claim. Is it too radical? PETA is essentially contending that the oracas are full legal persons entitled to constitutional rights. For the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP), an organization dedicated to changing the legal status of non-human animals from “things” to “persons,” the move is too soon; the lawsuit “is dangerously premature” and “will damage future animal rights law cases” if it is decided on the merits. NhRP has been allowed to appear as an amicus curiae in the case, and is seeking to have it decided on non-constitutional grounds, rather than on the merits of the Thirteenth Amendment claim. The question then is why: why is failure on the merits so bad or counterproductive from the viewpoint of animal rights advocacy? Although PETA is unlikely to prevail, how could it hurt to try?   Continue reading

The Slavery of Animals

Travis Brown

            People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is bringing suit on behalf of five orca whale plaintiffs against SeaWorld  this week in the United States District Court located in San Diego, California.  The suit, acknowledged to be unlikely to succeed, seeks to expand the boundaries of current animal rights. 

The basis of the claim is a rather progressive one.  PETA is asking the District Court to grant constitutional protection to the whales predicated upon the Thirteenth Amendment ban on slavery.  The group maintains that the Amendment does not solely apply to humans, and that the whales being kept within the parks and used solely for breeding and human entertainment is tantamount to such unconstitutional servitude.  Jeffrey Kerr, the general counsel for PETA stated that, “Slavery is slavery, and it does not depend on the species of the slave any more than it depends on gender, race, or religion.”

SeaWorld flatly denies any allegations of such slavery and stated that, “There is no higher priority than the welfare of the animals entrusted to [SeaWorld’s] care and no facility sets higher standards in husbandry, veterinary care and enrichment.”  Continue reading