A federal appeals court today upheld Chicago’s law requiring pet stores that sell dogs, cats, and rabbits to obtain them from an animal shelter or rescue only. Photo by iStockphoto

Sept. 22, 2017 –  In an important ruling for dogs and for the legal principle that states and local governments have a critical role in protecting animals from cruelty and mistreatment, a federal appeals court today upheld Chicago’s law requiring pet stores that sell dogs, cats, and rabbits to obtain them from an animal shelter or rescue only. In support of the law, The HSUS submitted an amicus brief in the case before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. The ruling comes just as California Governor Jerry Brown turns his attention to a bill, passed overwhelmingly in the state Senate and Assembly, that tries to achieve this, for the first time in the nation, at the state level.

Noting that the Chicago law was passed to address concerns that “pet stores in the city sourced their animals from large mill-style breeders, which are notorious for deplorable conditions and abusive breeding practices,” the federal court found that the city’s policy goals, including reducing financial support to mill operators, are “unquestionably legitimate governmental interests.” The court rejected claims by pet stores that the law ran afoul of the U.S. Constitution’s Commerce Clause because it burdened out-of-state business interests, and essentially banned dogs bred out of state: “Chicago has not attempted to regulate beyond its borders” and the ordinance “doesn’t ban animals from out-of-state breeders, either expressly or in practical effect.” This federal decision relating to the Chicago ordinance is just the latest in a string of similar rulings from other federal courts that upheld similarly designed ordinances to crack down on puppy mills.

More broadly, these decisions run counter to the claims of Congressmen Steve King, R-Iowa, and Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., whose bills seek to sweep away state and local ordinances designed to protect animals from cruel practices. King and Sensenbrenner have long opposed animal welfare standards at the federal level, and they are now working to unravel hundreds of state laws and states’ rights through a pair of bills they’ve introduced: the Protect Interstate Commerce Act (H.R. 3599), and the No Regulation Without Representation Act (H.R. 2887). The Congressmen have implied that the state laws that they’ve explicitly targeted and named in their public pronouncements – California and Massachusetts statutes that require eggs sold in those states must come from farms that do not severely confine laying hens – are unconstitutional. But the reality is, the federal courts have now taken a look at California’s law and a wide variety of other state and local laws of the same type and found that states and local jurisdictions are well within their rights to regulate the sale of animals and animal products in their markets, including based on the conditions in which those animals were raised.

Illinois and Texas laws forbidding the slaughter of horses for human consumption: In separate rulings with closely aligned reasoning, two federal appellate courts upheld the right of states to prohibit horse slaughter and the sale of horse meat for human consumption, finding that Illinois and Texas could regulate their markets and take animal welfare into account when passing laws without running afoul of the Constitution. The courts ruled that these states did not act in conflict with federal meat inspection laws, because the states categorically banned production of horse meat for human consumption.

California’s law restricting the sale of foie gras derived from force-feeding practices: In a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling last week, a unanimous panel of judges reinstated California’s law banning the sale of force-fed foie gras. The court held that contrary to foie gras producers’ contentions that force feeding is an “ingredient requirement” states are prohibited from imposing under the federal Poultry Products Inspection Act, force feeding is not a physical component in poultry and is therefore no more an ingredient than “cage-free” is in some types of chicken. Thus, the foie gras producers’ attempt to overturn California’s humane law fared no better than in 2013, when they failed to convince the same court that the California law violates the commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution. The court held then that California has every right to regulate activity within its state market to prevent complicity in a practice it deems cruel to animals.

California’s law restricting the extreme confinement of laying hens in cages: In May of this year, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal by state attorneys general and governors aligned with Big Ag who were seeking to overturn California’s landmark egg sales law, AB 1437, which requires eggs sold in the state come from hens treated with some measure of decency. This was only the latest in a long string of failed attempts by Big Ag and its allies to overturn AB 1437 and Proposition 2, a ballot initiative which went into effect the same year mandating that laying hens, breeding sows, and veal calves should have room to “stand up, lie down, turn around freely, and extend their limbs.” In a 2016 decision concluding that several attorneys general bringing the case did not have standing to sue, the Ninth Circuit also noted that AB 1437 does not distinguish among eggs based on their state of origin and therefore is not discriminatory. And Proposition 2 has been upheld against three separate challenges in state and federal court, from egg companies who want to keep hens jammed in cages so tightly that they can barely move.

California’s law against the trade in ivory and rhino horn: In 2016, the Los Angeles Superior Court upheld California’s ban on trade in ivory and rhino horn, rejecting claims by the Ivory Education Institute—a group that promotes ivory use—that the ban was unconstitutional on federal commerce clause and preemption grounds, among other things. The HSUS intervened in the case to defend the law alongside California and with a coalition of animal welfare and conservation groups. The court rightly recognized California’s right to legislate for the elimination of the illegal ivory trade and the preservation of wildlife.

California’s law banning the sale of shark fins: In May 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court announced it had rejected a petition to hear a case concerning California’s ban on the possession and sale of shark fins. The 2011 law targets the in-state market for shark fins, ending California’s role in generating demand for the cruel and wasteful practice of live finning of sharks. Over a dozen states and U.S. territories have enacted similar bans. A lawsuit was brought by San Francisco-based restaurant owners and shark fin suppliers, alleging that the California law was in conflict with federal fisheries management laws, and unlawfully burdened interstate commerce in shark fins. The courts soundly rejected these arguments, noting that the federal regulatory scheme was focused on the practice of finning in U.S. waters, and not the sale of the end products of such cruelty. Given that this abhorrent practice occurs all around the world, and it is impossible to know where the contents of a bowl of shark fin soup have been sourced, the courts determined that there was a clear role for the states to play in addressing the problem.

Ohio law stopping private ownership of dangerous exotics: Similarly, in 2013 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit rejected a challenge to Ohio’s Dangerous Wild Animals and Restricted Snakes Act, finding that the state absolutely had jurisdiction to regulate the possession, breeding, and sale of exotic pets and holding that the law’s reasonable requirement to microchip these animals was not an unconstitutional taking of private property.

Altogether, about half of the 11 federal courts of appeals in the country have now ruled in one or more cases by specifically endorsing states’ rights to cleanse their markets of the products of animal cruelty. The courts of appeal are the second highest courts in the land after the U.S. Supreme Court, and they are sending an unmistakable message to King, Sensenbrenner, and their cohorts: your draconian proposals to strip states of their right to prevent animal cruelty are a true threat to our Constitutional system.

Colleagues of King and Sensenbrenner should dismiss their radical proposals, recognizing them as thinly veiled attacks on a vast array of laws, including those related to animal welfare, and other health and safety standards adopted by state and local lawmakers and chief executives.

It’s noteworthy that these two Congressmen, while attempting to establish federal supremacy on issues related to cruel practices conducted by national industries, have consistently voted against efforts to crack down on horse slaughter, extreme confinement of farm animals, and other federal animal welfare standards in Congress. In short, they seem not to want state or local laws on animal welfare that affect agriculture or other national industries, but they do not want federal standards either. We can only conclude one thing: when it comes to their animal welfare reform agenda, they want virtually no protections for animals, anywhere.

As President and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States, few are in a position to speak for the animals like Wayne Pacelle. The HSUS is the nation’s largest animal protection organization.  www.humanesociety.org