Cornell Law Professor Michael C. Dorf comments on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last week in National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) v. Ross, in which the Court rejected a challenge by a pork industry trade group to a California law that bans in-state sale of pork unless the pigs were raised in accordance with certain minimum standards for “humane” treatment. Professor Dorf points out that it is unusual for the Supreme Court to acknowledge, as Justice Neil Gorsuch’s lead opinion does, animal welfare as a legitimate moral interest and expresses hope that the decision might pave the way to more substantial reforms of animal cruelty laws and changes in personal consumption choices.
Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on a case currently before the U.S. Supreme Court involving a challenge by the pork industry to a California law—Proposition 12—that was adopted by referendum in 2018. Professor Dorf explains why Supreme Court should uphold Prop 12 against the plaintiffs’ “dormant” Commerce Clause claims, and he considers the implications of that holding on state power to ban abortion pills from other states.
Cornell Law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on a decision last week by the New York Court of Appeals dismissing a lawsuit that sought to free Happy the elephant from life as a caged attraction at the Bronx Zoo. Professor Colb rebuts the common argument that while humans are capable of fulfilling moral responsibilities and therefore have rights, nonhuman animals are incapable of fulfilling moral responsibilities and therefore lack rights.
Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on a recent decision by the New York Court of Appeals ruling that Happy, an Asian elephant who has been imprisoned at the Bronx Zoo for nearly her entire half-century of existence—was not entitled to the writ of habeas corpus. Professor Dorf points out the questionable logic and errors that led the court to its conclusion and suggests that, despite the sad ending for Happy, her case might mark a turning point in the legal rights of nonhuman animals, evidenced by the thoughtful and compassionate dissent by two members of that court.
Cornell Law professor Sherry F. Colb describes the “liberation pledge”—a commitment to consume only vegan food and clothing and refrain from eating anything while in the company of people who are eating animals and/or the secretions of animals. Professor Colb explains the reasoning behind the pledge and suggests that one way of fulfilling the second part of the pledge in a nonconfrontational would be to invite non-vegan friends to share in a vegan meal.
Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on recent reports that New York City Mayor Eric Adams, who identifies as a vegan, sometimes eats fish. Professor Colb, an ethical vegan, points out that in her opinion, being a vegan means trying to keep the products of animal exploitation and slaughter out of one’s life to the extent that one can do so, and we should celebrate Mayor Adams’s substantial success in doing that rather than criticize his (alleged) failure to do it perfectly.
Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on a recently filed petition in the U.S. Supreme Court presenting the question whether Congress had the constitutional authority to ban cockfighting in Puerto Rico. Professor Dorf explains why the Court is unlikely to agree to hear the case, but he points out that the case presents a broader issue of laws that proscribe one unpopular form of cruelty to animals (e.g., cockfighting), even as the vast majority of the law’s supporters routinely demand animal products that come from the infliction of suffering on a much more massive scale—the meat and dairy industries.
Cornell Law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on a recent interview in which actor Joaquin Phoenix, who is vegan, said that he would not “force” his nine-month-old son River to be vegan, though he hoped he would be. Professor Colb explores why the question and his answer have provoked strong responses among vegan activists and offers an alternative understanding of his statement that supports, rather than undermines, veganism.
Cornell Law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on a recent episode of the podcast “Making Sense,” in which host Sam Harris talked with guests Bruce Friedrich and Liz Spech of the Good Food Institute about how we might all go about saving the world from climate disaster. Professor Colb notes a key point of discussion, that production and consumption of animal-based foods is a major contributor to the climate crisis, and argues that we just have to make ethical eating virtually identical to or better than unethical eating if we want to bring the vast majority of humanity along.
Cornell Law professor Sherry F. Colb describes some ways in which we resist positive change; specifically, she describes her initial hesitation to becoming an ethical vegan and the rationalizations we use to justify resisting positive change. Professor Colb argues that animals are different from inanimate objects, and we must recognize that when anyone suffers, anyone regardless of species, we have an evil that rightly commands our attention and action.
Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb describes how the U.S. Supreme Court purported to allow the state of Kansas to substitute one insanity defense for another, but in fact approved its abolishment of the insanity defense altogether. Colb explains the difference between the insanity defense—an affirmative defense to the commission of a crime—and facts that negate mens rea—the mental element of a crime. Colb also notes how in dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer made a case for veganism, albeit probably inadvertently.
Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on case in which Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) brought a civil damages suit on behalf of an abused horse, now named Justice, against the horse’s former owner. Colb dismantles three arguments critics raise in opposition to recognizing abused animals as plaintiffs in lawsuits such as this one.
Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb considers whether an explanation for the affection dogs express for their humans might be explained by the Stockholm Syndrome, the condition that afflicts many kidnapped people and other abuse victims in which they form an attachment, sometimes called a trauma bond, that manifests as seeking the abuser’s approval and craving closeness rather than trying to escape. Colb argues that even though pet owners might not intend abuse, the unpredictable repetition of house arrest and silent treatment, followed by intermittent returns, might amount to abuse in the minds of these animals we hold as pets.
Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb why the question whether a state may abolish the insanity defense (presently before the Supreme Court) is similar to the question whether a state should adopt so-called animal welfare laws. Colb argues that both the insanity defense and animal welfare measures provide the public with a sense of moral relief but only if we willfully ignore the reality of how animals and criminal defendants are treated.
Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on a memorandum recently issued by Andrew Wheeler, the administrator of the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), that announced directives to substantially reduce government funding for and mandating of animal testing of chemicals to which humans might be exposed. Dorf acknowledges that Wheeler’s motivation might be the deregulation of industries that produce chemical products (a legitimate concern expressed by some public health and environmental groups), but Dorf argues that the policy is win-win-win: better for the animals spared experimentation; less costly to the public fisc; and better for human health.
Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on Tyson Foods’ recent entrance into the meat reduction market, selling so-called blended products that contain both meat and plants. Colb discusses some of the possible harms and benefits of Tyson’s decision from the perspective of an ethical vegan consumer.
Jareb Gleckel, a third-year law student at Cornell Law, comments on the legal and regulatory issues that arise from new food technologies such as “cell-based meat”—which is derived from stem cells to create meat that is identical, at the cellular level, to animal flesh, but does not require the raising and slaughtering of animals. Gleckel explains why both the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Department of Agriculture (USDA) have been asked to exercise jurisdiction over this cell-based meat and argues that, given the position of “Big Ag” that the USDA should regulate cell-based meat, cell-based meat companies therefore have the right to call their products “slaughter-free meat,” “cruelty-free meat,” “antibiotic-free meat,” or even simply “meat.”
Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf considers whether a vegan generally, and New Jersey Democratic Senator Cory Booker specifically, would have a shot of winning the presidency in 2020. Dorf explains how food plays an important role in politics and considers whether the election of a vegan to the highest office in the land is likely to hurt or help the vegan movement.
Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb describes the evolution of the phrase “factory farming” from its original meaning of animal agriculture generally, to a much narrower (and less meaningful) definition today. Colb points out that descriptors of so-called “humane” animal agriculture practices—organic, local, sustainable, grass fed, cage free, and similar phrases—are not meaningfully better than the supposedly evil factory farming. Colb draws an analogy to the misogynist’s argument that “violent rape” is distinguishable and “worse” than other types of rape.