Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) has blocked 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. […]
But 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.
Chambliss told The Hill that he has blocked Sunstein’s nomination because the law professor “has said that animals ought to have the right to sue folks.”
Once again, this is profoundly bogus. First, while it sounds insane when you frame it as the idea that “animals ought to have the right to sue folks,” what Sunstein has actually proposed is actually a pretty tepid reform. The idea is this: We already have animal cruelty laws in most states, but it falls to the discretion of government prosecutors when to actually pursue them. Sunstein proposes that people concerned about the mistreatment of animals should be able to bring civil suits seeking the enforcement of those existing statutes, with liability for attorney’s fees as a deterrent against frivolous litigation.
Now, this seems reasonable enough to me, but maybe you think it’s a terrible idea. Well, fortunately or unfortunately, it doesn’t matter because the director of OIRA has no power to make this happen. Weirdly The Hill fails to point this out, conveying Chambliss’ “worries” without contradiction, and later describing the position as one with “sweeping authority” over new regulation. That’s true, but misleading: The authority is the largely negative power to block regulation, or to resolve conflicts between agencies with overlapping jurisdiction. Sunstein can’t actually impose regulations of his own—and he certainly wouldn’t have any ability to create new classes of legal standing.
Now, Chambliss has to know all this, so I think we can safely assume that this animal rights stuff is largely pretextual—an excuse for the senator to grandstand a bit, slow things down in the upper chamber, and maybe get a bargaining chip with which to extract some minor concession on another issue. That’s all in the game, I suppose, but I wish the handful of outlets reporting on this would make clear that’s what’s going on.