Free Willy and the other Orcas?

Christopher D. Stone’s seminal work, Should Trees Have Standing?, a rallying point for the then burgeoning environmental movement, was originally published in 1972. The book set off a worldwide debate on the basic nature of legal rights that reached the U.S. Supreme Court. At the heart of the book is an argument that the environment should be granted legal rights. What about animals?

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, a controversial animal activist organization, has claimed that orcas should hold the same constitutional rights as humans. PETA brought a lawsuit against SeaWorld in San Diego and Orlando for enduring “slave”-like conditions at the theme parks. To the surprise of some legal skeptics, a U.S. judge considered the case.

But in February 2012, U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Miller dismissed the lawsuit that had sought an order forcing SeaWorld to free five orcas. Judge Miller ruled that a lawsuit on behalf of the orcas could not be brought under the anti-slavery 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution because the amendment pertains to human beings, not animals. Read the decision here.

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