Judge Dismisses PETA's Argument in Defense of Whales' Constitutional Rights

Animal rights group sues SeaWorld for allegedly violating animal’s thirteenth amendment rights

By Lauren Steussy
|  Wednesday, Feb 8, 2012  |  Updated 11:29 PM PDT
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PETA: SeaWorld Holds Orcas as "Slaves"

PETA is preparing to file a lawsuit against SeaWorld claiming the park holds Orcas as slaves, breaking the 13th Amendment of the Constitution. Nicole Gonzales reports.
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A federal judge on Wednesday dismissed a lawsuit that sought to give killer whales at SeaWorld constitutional rights.

The animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) sued SeaWorld Inc. in San Diego on Oct. 6, 2011, for allegedly violating the 13th Amendment rights of orca whales.

Monday, U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Miller heard the case. Miller was the first judge to ever hear arguments over animals' constitutional rights.

Miller did not immediately dismiss the case. Instead, he took it under submission Monday after about an hour of questioning.

"As 'slavery' and 'involuntary servitude' are uniquely human activities, as those terms have been historically and contemporaneously applied, there is simply no basis to construe the Thirteenth Amendment as applying to non-humans," Miller stated in his ruling.

SeaWorld filed a motion to have case dismissed even before the hearing.

"Today’s decision does not change the fact that the orcas who once lived naturally wild and free are today kept as slaves by SeaWorld," a PETA spokesperson stated Wednesday after the ruling. "PETA will regroup and determine how to continue to work for the legal protection they deserve."

In the courthouse Monday, an attorney representing SeaWorld said that PETA's arguments had "no place in a federal courtroom." He added that, regardless of whether animals were being abused, this was not a matter of constitutionality. If PETA were truly concerned about the well-being of the whales, they would file an Animal Welfare Act lawsuit, he said.

"Orcas... are not human beings. And I need not remind the court that African-Americans are," the attorney said, drawing on the intention of the 13th Amendment to abolish the slavery of humans.


Click here to read about what Constitution experts say about this case.


The official complaint filed in October in the U.S. District Court for Southern California lists five SeaWorld orcas as collective plaintiffs in the case. Three of those whales live in the San Diego SeaWorld park. The other two live in the Orlando location.

"They were ripped from their homes and families with whom they would have spent their entire lives," said Kerr. "They're denied everything natural to them. They're confined in the equivalent of concrete bathtubs."

PETA alleges that the two SeaWorld locations restrained and kept the whales in “constant involuntary physical confinement,” with no means to escape. The complaint also accuses SeaWorld of depriving the whales of “their ability to live in a manner of their choosing” and for “intentionally subjugating” the whales’ “wills, desires, and/or natural drives and needs of [SeaWorld’s] own will and whims.”

In response, SeaWorld said the whales have no constitutional standing, and the lawsuit is a waste of the court's time.

"PETA has once again showed that it prefers publicity stunts to the hard work of caring for, rescuing and helping animals," SeaWorld's spokesperson said in October.

See what other readers have to say about this controversial case and join the conversation! Comment below or send us a Tweet via Twitter @nbcsandiego or add your comment to our Facebook page.

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