Cass Sunstein’s views on animal rights continue to place his confirmation for “regulatory czar” in jeopardy. Sunstein, the Harvard law professor nominated by President Obama to become the administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs at the Office of Budget and Management, has come under fire from senators who are concerned about his views on animal rights and hunting.
For the second time, Sunstein’s nomination has been placed on “hold” — this time by Texas Sen. John Cornyn, who says he is not convinced that Sunstein won’t push a radical animal rights agenda, including new restrictions on agriculture and even hunting.
An earlier “hold” had been placed on Sunstein by Senate Agriculture ranking member Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga). But Chambliss announced last week that he would lift the hold after he received a letter from Sunstein who pledged not to “take any steps to promote litigation on behalf of animals” and agreed the law does not give animals such rights. In the letter, Sunstein also said he believes the Second Amendment protects the right of individuals to bear arms.
Senators are permitted “holds” to prevent a vote on a nominee from coming to the floor. They are often secretive and for very specific reasons.
In announcing the “hold” this week, a spokesman for Sen. Cornyn said the senator “finds numerous aspects of Mr. Sunstein’s record troubling, specifically the fact that he wants to establish legal ‘rights’ for livestock, wildlife and pets, which would enable animals to file lawsuits in American courts.”
Such views have alarmed agriculture groups, and they subsequently alerted farm-state senators. Sunstein also drew some opposition as a result of lectures in which he suggested banning hunting. The OIRA job is closely watched because the office reviews and alters regulations created by federal agencies. It is a wide-ranging and largely unrestrained position in the executive branch.
Such authority is why Sunstein’s positions on animal rights are worrisome. Sunstein has spoken in the past in favor of allowing people the right to bring suit on behalf of animals in animal cruelty cases and to restrict what he calls the more horrific practices associated with industrial breeding and processing of animals for food. In a 2007 speech at Harvard, Sunstein also advocated restricting animal testing for cosmetics, banning hunting and encouraging the general public to eat less meat.
Despite concerns about his views on animal rights, Sunstein has a track record as both a liberal activist and a free-market cheerleader that makes the nominee a true “wild card.”
For instance, John Lott, conservative author of The Bias Against Guns and Freedomnomics: Why the Free Market Works, calls Sunstein “open minded” and a “true academic.”
From the left, environmentalists say that Sunstein’s nomination is a potential blow to their efforts to roll back what they call Bush-era deregulation.
Sunstein’s record appears to make him a strange pick to head the OIRA. His views on animal rights certainly run against agriculture and hunting, but he’s also alienated members of the environmentalist community and even journalists and free speech advocates.
Sunstein — a prolific writer — has penned 35 books since 1990. His latest, On Rumors: How Falsehoods Spread, Why We Believe Them, What Can Be done, drew criticism from a New York Post columnist — Kyle Smith — who suggested Sunstein threatens to tweak libel laws for the Internet and make online writers, particularly bloggers, legally responsible for falsehoods and rumors that get generated in cyberspace.
“Sunstein calls for a ‘notice and take down’ law that would require bloggers and service providers to ‘take down falsehoods upon notice,’ even those made by commentors — but without apparent penalty,” Smith wrote.
The chief concern about Sunstein by free speech advocates such as Smith is actually identical to the concern livestock producers have — that Sunstein’s legal views could tie up writers and farmers in court for years.
Even if current animal abuse laws remain the same, Sunstein’s views on litigating on behalf of animals could successfully tie up livestock producers with legal procedures for years. That could essentially shut them down, regardless of guilt or innocence.
Likewise, Sunstein has sufficiently scared free speech advocates with his “notice and take down” law suggestions. “How long,” Smith asks, “would it take for a court to sort out the truth?” He suggests it could be decades, and “it will give politicians the ability to tie up their online critics in court.” —