Monkey Trial on The Ninth Circuit

We live in a society in which the dogs of the rich often live better than impoverished humans, eating better food, wearing expensive, customized attire, even meriting burial in special cemeteries.

But these are not merely the fopperies of the affluent (or the lonely) and animal advocates. The overwrought affection and honors accorded cats and dogs extends to the best-educated and the professional elites as well.

So it should not come as a surprise that judges on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals have ruled that animals can have standing under the Constitution to bring lawsuits. In other words, humans can bring lawsuits on behalf of animals, and these claims can be considered in court in the United States.

The humans who initiated this absurdity belong to the PETA animal rights group, which has for years radically and aggressively campaigned for equating animal rights with human rights. Not satisfied with lobbying for humane treatment of animals, nor with perpetuating the lie that kosher slaughter is cruel and should therefore be outlawed, PETA has taken love of pets to its ultimate legal conclusion, demanding that animals be recognized in a court of law just like human litigants.

Or at least as much like one as possible. Consider the case of Naruto v. Slater. Naruto is the name of the monkey whose copyright of selfies, unwittingly taken by Naruto himself, PETA alleged had been infringed.

PETA presented itself as the “friend” of the “incompetent litigant.” Even they have to recognize the reality that an animal cannot speak for itself in court — though they may view this as a mere technical obstacle, not as an inherent disqualification.

The claim is that Naruto is the author and owner of the “Monkey Selfies” — even though he doesn’t know what a selfie is, or for that matter what a camera or a court of law is. Furthermore, it is highly doubtful that Naruto would agree that he has “suffered concrete and particularized economic harms as a result of the infringing conduct by the Appellees …”

The Ninth Circuit decided that under copyright law, animals are not eligible to sue for breach.

Case closed. PETA lost. Right? Sanity prevailed, right?

No, not at all. Because the court went on to say that, generally, under Article III of the U.S. Constitution, which requires that the party bringing suit must have suffered an actual injury, animals may indeed qualify.

As National Review columnist Wesley Smith wrote this week, the case could well prove to be a landmark, albeit a landmark of judicial nonsense:

“As I have been warning about for years, … animal-rights activists are close to breaking the ‘species barrier’ and opening up the courts of this land to lawsuits by animals.”

If the Ninth Circuit has lost its grip on reality, at least some in the judiciary have not. As one jurist has pointed out, the consequences of such a ruling are entirely problematic. It raises questions that could occupy judges and lawyers for years to come.

For example, if animals may sue, who represents their interests? If they have property rights, do they also have corresponding responsibilities, and can they incur liabilities? How do we prevent groups like PETA from exploiting animals to advance their insidious agendas?

Such questions clearly delineate the intrinsic absurdity of the notion that animals cannot and should not be granted standing to sue or be sued in a court of law, a notion that any human endowed with common sense can tell without having to have the legal issues spelled out.

Beyond the logical objections, the administrative consequences could also be significant. Millions of pet owners taking their animals to court (or vice versa) would add tremendously to an already overburdened and backlogged judiciary.

Recent surveys have shown a 39 percent increase in filings at district and circuit courts, but only a 4 percent increase in judgeships. Civil litigants may wait up to three or four years for their cases to be heard. The Seventh Amendment guarantee of right to a speedy trial applies to criminal cases, but not civil ones.

Yet justice delayed is justice denied, even in civil matters, and it happens all the time.

“Over the years I’ve received several letters from people indicating, ‘Even if I win this case now, my business has failed because of the delay. How is this justice?’ ” said Judge Lawrence J. O’Neill in Fresno, Calif., who sits in the Eastern District. “And the simple answer, which I cannot give them, is this: It is not justice. We know it.”

If the courts do begin to hear cases involving animal “litigants,” this already unjust situation will be exacerbated beyond reason. Real human litigants will be forced to wait even longer, and will have their right to justice denied to an even greater extent.

Such a scenario will of course not deter the likes of PETA, but every judge who retains his common sense should shrink back in horror. Naruto v. Slater should be the last of the monkey trials.