Does the 13th Amendment apply to critters? Can whales be plaintiffs? People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals thinks so, and has filed suit in a San Diego court to emancipate killer whales from Sea World facilities in San Diego and Orlando:
PETA argues that continuing the whales' "employment" at SeaWorld violates the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution, which prohibits slavery.
District Judge Jeffrey Miller heard arguments in the complaint Monday and reviewed the response from SeaWorld, which asked that the lawsuit be dismissed. His ruling is expected to come later.
The suit, filed in October 2011, asked that the court declare that the orcas are "held in slavery and/or involuntary servitude by defendants in violation of the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution."
"It's a new frontier in civil rights," said Jeff Kerr, PETA general counsel, who described the hearing as a "historic day."
"Slavery does not depend on the species of the slave any more than it depends on race, gender or ethnicity," he argued. "Coercion, degradation and subjugation characterize slavery and these orcas have endured all three."
The complaint says the five killer whales are represented by their "friends" at PETA, which include three former killer whale trainers, a marine biologist and the founder of an organization that seeks to protect orcas.
The complaint demands that the court "appoint a legal guardian to effectuate plaintiffs' transfer from defendants' facilities to a suitable habitat in accordance with each plaintiff's individual needs and best interests."
Does Tilikum, who killed an Orlando Sea World trainer in February 2010, have the right to a trial by a jury of his peers? Can whales vote? Can they be president? Do they have the right to bear arms? Does PETA have the right to arm bears? This is so exciting!