Several farm groups have raised concerns over President Obama’s candidate for regulation czar, Harvard law professor Cass Sunstein, because Sunstein has argued that animals should have the right to sue humans in court.

According to a report in The Hill, that sentiment has caused Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) to block Sunstein’s confirmation to head the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, an office that has power to review and assess all draft regulations proposed within the administration.

 Chambliss worries that Sunstein’s innovative legal views may someday lead to a farmer having to defend himself in court against a lawsuit filed on behalf of his chickens or pigs. In his 2004 book, Animal Rights: Current Debates and New Directions, Sunstein wrote: “I will suggest that animals should be permitted to bring suit, with human beings as their representatives, to prevent violations of current law.”
More specifically, he wrote: “Laws designed to protect animals against cruelty and abuse should be amended or interpreted to give a private cause of action against those who violate them, so as to allow private people to supplement the efforts of public prosecutors.”
Chambliss said he is also concerned about Sunstein’s potential impact on “a number of other issues relative to agriculture.”   

Sunstein’s views on animal rights could be disastrous for all of livestock agriculture, not because stockmen routinely abuse animals but because such legal remedies could be used by animal rights activists to initiate nuisance suits. Assuming current animal abuse laws remain the same, activists could successfully tie up livestock producers with legal procedures for years. And once the door is opened a crack to allow legal action by animals, it would only be a matter of time before the interpretation of abuse comes into question. For instance, are animals fed corn abused? Some animal rights advocates believe they are. What about cows living on the range without shelter? Are they abused if they don’t have access to a heated barn? Sunstein’s views represent those on the fringe now, but the actions we take now may determine if those views are mainstream in the future.

Chambliss is correct to oppose Sunstein’s nomination to a position in Obama’s administration. You should encourage your senator to do the same, but you had better make sure your own house is in order. Animal abuse cannot be tolerated at any level, and our industry should not have to suffer through the release of another hidden-camera livestock-abuse video sponsored by an animal rights organization. — Greg Henderson, Drovers editor.