This Little Piggy Went to Court

by Michelle C. Pardo

We previously blogged about the animal rights’ movement’s attempts to convince various U.S. courts to allow animals the same rights as people in the court system.  People for the Ethical Treatment of Animal’s (PETA’s) failed “monkey selfie” case, an effort to convince a federal court to rule that the crested macaque had standing under the Copyright Act, was not only dismissed, but earned PETA a sharp rebuke from the Ninth Circuit, when the court determined that the activist group seemingly employed Naruto the monkey as “an unwitting pawn it its ideological goals.”  Now PETA has taken its “animal personhood” crusade internationally.

PETA has filed a lawsuit in Germany’s Federal Constitutional Court naming Germany’s entire population of male piglets as plaintiffs.  As described by PETA, German law provides that animals cannot be harmed without “reasonable explanation.”   PETA claims that by delaying its ban on castration methods for male piglets, Germany is violating German law and the pigs’ constitutional rights.  Even assuming that animal welfare regulations and the delay or enforcement of such laws is appropriate for debate or legal challenge, PETA also wants Germany to recognize that pigs themselves have the right to sue in court — in other words, to have the same legal standing to sue as humans.  German media, commenting on PETA’s piglet case and Germany’s evolving legal system, has compared the animals’ plight to that of human slaves.

This isn’t the first time an animal rights group tried to convince a court to afford animals “personhood” that would entitle them to bring lawsuits in court.  The NonHuman Rights Project (NRP) is currently trying to convince a state court in New York to grant such rights to an elephant at the Bronx Zoo.  Despite multiple attempts, NRP has been unsuccessful, to date, in convincing any court to do so.  Recently, a court in Argentina made the groundbreaking decision to grant legal “personhood” to an orangutan.  In that case, the Argentinian court ruled that “Sandra” the orangutan is legally not an animal, but a non-human person, entitled to legal rights enjoyed by humans, which include better living conditions.  Sandra recently moved to an ape facility in Florida.

Perhaps the German court will follow the rationale of a recent Oregon state court judge, who determined that “Justice” the horse was not entitled to legal standing to sue his former owner in court because:

 “such a finding would lead to a flood of lawsuits whereby non-human animals could assert claims we now reserve just for humans and human creations such as businesses and other entities.”

PETA has stated that if successful in Germany, a ruling “would pave the way for granting nonhuman animals other fundamental rights in the future.”  Undoubtedly, the issue of  legal personhood for animals introduces a massive slippery slope into the debate.  Granting of such rights could allow a lion to sue to challenge his life in a zoo, could permit a Golden Retriever to decide he doesn’t want to be your pet anymore, or allow a broiler chicken to demand different housing on the farm.  And because animals cannot make their own legal decisions, each would need to be assisted in litigation by a guardian ad litem (special representatives appointed to assist infants, minors, or mentally incompetent persons with enforcing their rights or protections in court) or “next friend” — leading the way for animal activists to pursue their own ideologies in court in the name of individual animals (and perhaps extracting legal fees for doing so).  The burden and cost on the state and federal court systems would likely be immeasurable.

PETA’s latest lawsuit calls to mind Wesley J. Smith’s A Rat is A Pig is a Dog is a Boy, (named after PETA founder Ingrid Newkirk’s 1986 statement to the Washingtonian) a book that aptly documents “the human cost of the  animal rights movement,” the foundational differences between animal welfare advocates and the animal rights movement, and the animal activists’ quest for “moral equivalence” between the value of human and animal lives.  It presents a cautionary look at the animal rights’ movements goals and ideologies and serves as an interesting backdrop for analyzing PETA’s piglet lawsuit.