On Saturday, D.C. NPR station WAMU-FM promoted a segment of its weekend "Animal House" talk show with a dramatic twist on the Constitution. The show promoted a lawsuit by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals to end "animal slavery" at marine parks.
As WAMU put it, The 13th Amendment "was intended to abolish domestic slavery and involuntary servitude. The authors would probably be surprised to learn 146 years later that same mandate is being used to justify constitutional rights for 5 killer whales who 'perform' at Sea World in San Diego and Orlando." Host Sam Litzinger interviewed Jeff Kerr, a PETA vice president, who claimed as his inspiration one ultraliberal named Laurence Tribe:
KERR: The idea originated from Professor Laurence Tribe who is a Harvard constitutional law scholar, and is based very simply on the notion that the 13th Amendment is worded broadly, and the plain text of the amendment does not limit it to a particular class of victims, nor does it use the word person, and so the lawsuit stands for the very simple proposition that slavery should not depend upon the species of the animal, which is why the five plaintiffs in the case are the five wild captured orcas at Sea World San Diego and Sea World Orlando.
...By any definition, they're enslaved. First, they were all violently ripped from their families decades ago. They would spend their entire lives with their families in nature, males up to 60 years, females 90 years. They are denied everything natural to them. They are kept in the equivalent of concrete bathtubs that make them aggressive and stress them out greatly. They're forced to perform for Sea World's profit, and they're turned into virtual breeding machines to churn out more performers for Sea World's tawdry shows.
LITZINGER: Talk about the 13th Amendment in particular now, because that's the -- I think for legal scholars in particular, that is the fascinating aspect of this. Are we not dealing specifically with human beings in the 13th Amendment?
KERR: This historical context, as you related to earlier, is undeniable, and is very well known, but that's the beauty of our Constitution. It's a living document. As our society evolves, it is constantly interpreted and applied to different situations. The plain language of the amendment is not limited to any particular group or individual victims, and does not use the word person, and the amendment outlaws the condition of slavery in all of its forms. It is a condition that is so abhorrent that the amendment declares it illegal anywhere in the United States, period.
The interview aired originally in mid-November, a few weeks after PETA filed its suit in San Diego. The whole concept grew more ridiculous as the interview wrapped up:
LITZINGER: I would think your attorney-client meetings must be fascinating. Have you had any?
KERR: [Laughter] Well, that's where the next friends come in. Obviously the orcas cannot go to court themselves, and so they're represented in this case by what the law refers to as next friends which are PETA, we have three international orca experts, and two former Sea World trainers, and next friends in the legal context are simply parties who will represent the best interests of the plaintiffs throughout the litigation.
Fox News reported when the lawsuit was filed:
The plaintiffs are the five orcas, Tilikum and Katina based at SeaWorld in Orlando, Fla., and Corky, Kasatka and Ulises at SeaWorld San Diego. Tilikum, a six-ton male, made national news in February 2010 when he grabbed a trainer at the close of a performance and dragged her underwater until she drowned.
Captured nearly 30 years ago off Iceland, Tilikum has enormous value as a stud and has fathered many of the calves born at SeaWorld parks. The lawsuit asks the court to order the orcas released to the custody of a legal guardian who would find a "suitable habitat" for them.
"By any definition, these orcas are slaves -- kidnapped from their homes, kept confined, denied everything that's natural to them and forced to perform tricks for SeaWorld's profit," said Kerr. "The males have their sperm collected, the females are artificially inseminated and forced to bear young which are sometimes shipped away."
SeaWorld said any effort to extend the 13th Amendment's protections beyond humans "is baseless and in many ways offensive."
"SeaWorld is among the world's most respected zoological institutions," the company said. "There is no higher priority than the welfare of the animals entrusted to our care and no facility sets higher standards in husbandry, veterinary care and enrichment."