Here is a fairly absurd lawsuit that gives rise to a much more legitimate question.
PETA is bringing SeaWorld to court for purported violations of the 13th Amendment--the constitutional ban on slavery. From the AP:
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is accusing the SeaWorld parks of keeping five star-performer whales in conditions that violate the 13th Amendment ban on slavery. SeaWorld depicted the suit as baseless.
The chances of the suit succeeding are slim, according to legal experts not involved in the case; any judge who hews to the original intent of the authors of the amendment is unlikely to find that they wanted to protect animals. But PETA relishes engaging in the court of public opinion, as evidenced by its provocative anti-fur and pro-vegan campaigns.
The suit, which PETA says it will file Wednesday in U.S. District Court in San Diego, hinges on the fact that the 13th Amendment, while prohibiting slavery and involuntary servitude, does not specify that only humans can be victims.
Jeff Kerr, PETA's general counsel, says his five-member legal team — which spent 18 months preparing the case — believes it's the first federal court suit seeking constitutional rights for members of an animal species.
The notable debate here is not whether SeaWorld treats its animals like slaves. After all, the marine park is already regulated by the Marine Mammals Protection Act. In fact, the interesting question is whether animals should be treated as more than legal property. The article continues:
However, the field of animal law has evolved steadily, with courses taught at scores of law schools. Many prominent lawyers and academics have joined in serious discussion about expanding animal rights.
Rutgers University law professor Gary Francione, for example, contends that animals deserve the fundamental right to not be treated as property. Law professor David Favre of Michigan State University has proposed a new legal category called "living property" as a step toward providing rights for some animals.
It seems to me that categorizing the whales at SeaWorld as slaves is ridiculous. However, I think the notion of animals as more than simple property does bear consideration.