In Federalist No. 78, Alexander Hamilton reassured us that the judiciary will always be the “least dangerous branch” of our government. But for those who profit from harming animals, Hamilton’s words are providing very cold comfort of late.
From the double indictments against disgraced football star Michael Vick for his role in a major dogfighting operation, to the recent federal appeals court decision shuttering the last horse slaughter plant in the country, the courts are stepping up to the challenge of confronting and halting animal abuse in ways never before seen.
In a single day yesterday, we celebrated three major court victories for animals—something I can’t ever recall happening in all my years working for the humane treatment of animals.
First, an appeals court in New Jersey got things rolling yesterday morning by shooting down the Safari Club and other extreme trophy hunting groups’ lawsuit to force the state of New Jersey to hold a reckless and inhumane bear trophy hunt. The court’s ruling clears the way for implementation of Governor Jon Corzine’s and Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Lisa Jackson’s decision to abandon trophy hunting of black bears in favor of a humane, non-lethal plan to resolve bear conflicts.
Then, a few hours later, the Florida Supreme Court got into the act. The high court issued a unanimous ruling upholding our right to have a trial court examine whether there was fraud in qualifying an initiative petition to allow greyhound track owners to prop up their failing racing operations with slot machine gambling. The court ordered a full trial on the merits.
Finally, back in Washington, D.C., a federal district court dealt Ringling Brothers circus yet another blow in the ongoing legal battle over Ringling’s abuse of its elephants. The court rejected Ringling’s effort to gain a sweeping gag order preventing the release of any evidence of abuse uncovered by the plaintiffs in the case, including recently discovered documentation showing trainers beating elephants with a sharpened metal hook (called a "bullhook" or "ankus").
As I wrote about a few weeks back, thanks to the support of our members and our union with The Fund for Animals, we created an Animal Protection Litigation section in 2005. Led by Jonathan Lovvorn, the section now has 12 full-time attorneys, and works with hundreds of attorneys in law firms that do pro bono work for us.
The investment in this work is paying off for animals, and your HSUS has vowed to work tirelessly not only in legislative bodies and executive agencies throughout the nation, but also in the courts. Laws must be passed, but they also must be enforced.