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The Government Says Falconers Have to Give up Their Privacy and Free Speech Rights in Order to Own Birds. Now the Falconers Are Suing.

"I'm treated no differently from a common felon on parole."

Peter Stavrianoudakis and AresPacific Legal FoundationThe short video shows three California game wardens, armed and wearing bulletproof vests, demanding to search the home of Fred Seaman while he stands around, only partly dressed. He's a falconer in California, and he has been for 30 years.

The game wardens don't have a warrant, and they don't believe they need one to enter Seaman's home. Remarkably, this is happening because Seaman is attempting to follow the law. He's a legally licensed falconer in California, and part of California's regulations grants the state's Department of Fish and Wildlife the authority to conduct unannounced inspections of any facility where falcons are being cared for.

The regulations don't require that the wardens have reasonable suspicion that the birds are being mistreated or that any sort of illegal behavior is happening. And if Seaman resists or refuses to let them in, he could lose his falconry license and be forced to surrender the birds.

This is how falconers have been treated under state and federal law, and some of them have finally had enough. With the assistance of the Pacific Legal Foundation, they're suing.

"This community feels like it's been beaten up on for decades," explains Timothy Snowball, the foundation's lead attorney on the case. "They've been wanting to file some sort of challenge."

It was by happenstance that the foundation connected with falconers. One of the plaintiffs is Peter Stavrianoudakis, who is both a devoted falconer and a deputy public defender in Stanislaus County. He had been looking for a complaint to use as a model for a lawsuit he himself planned to file and came across the Pacific Legal Foundation's work. He contacted them and they agreed to take on the case pro bono.

Stavrianoudakis has been in Seaman's shoes. He tells Reason that in the 1980s he had game wardens show up unannounced for an inspection. He says they suspected he might have illegally imported a falcon from Nevada to California. He hadn't. Rather than getting a warrant, they just showed up claiming this inspection authority and handcuffing him in the process.

"In short, they've created a regulation that says the Fourth Amendment doesn't apply to a citizen engaged in the sport of falconry," Stavrianoudakis says. "I'm treated no differently from a common felon on parole." He keeps Ares in his home, which means that his wife, who is not a falconer, essentially has to give up her own privacy rights as well.

That's not the only right falconers give up. This lawsuit is against both the State of California's and the United States government's Fish and Wildlife Departments, because Washington also essentially censors falconers and imposes other unreasonable restrictions. Federal regulation makes it against the law to profit off licensed birds of prey. But the law specifically targets falconers and only birds of prey, not other exotic birds. If you have a pet toucan or ostrich, cash right in. But Stavrianoudakis is banned under federal law from using his aplomado falcon, named Ares, in "movies, commercials, or in other commercial ventures that are not related to falconry." He cannot allow Ares' image to be used in logos or to endorse any product unless it's related to falconry.

He can use Ares as part of education and conservation education, but even there the law demands that he can only be paid to the extent that it covers his expenses. He is not permitted to make any personal profit off of Ares. Stavrianoudakis says he has no interest in doing so, but he calls the expansive ban "ludicrious." He wants his falconry buddies to be able to teach classes on bird conservation and actually get paid for it.

Snowball theorizes that the purpose of the ban is to prevent exploitation of the birds, but the overbroad way it's crafted violated the First Amendment. The Pacific Legal Foundation cheekily wonders on their own site whether posting a picture of Stavrianoudakis with Ares is violating the law.

"The fact that we're asking that question is constitutionally problematic," Snowball says. "The fact that we have to ask that question means it's probably constitutionally too vague. What does it mean that something is 'falconry related'? What are 'educational purposes'? What exactly does this apply to? There are more narrowly tailored ways to bring that about than a blanket prohibition."

Their lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California, argues that the unwarranted, unannounced inspections violate the Fourth Amendment and the blanket controls over how falconers may present their birds represent content-based speech restrictions forbidden by the First Amendment. The plaintiffs are requesting permanent injunctions stopping California and the United States from enforcing these rules.

Read the lawsuit for yourself here, and watch the Pacific Legal Foundation's video below. A spokesperson from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife said the agency does not comment on litigation.

Photo Credit: Pacific Legal Foundation

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  • Remember to keep it all polit||

    When they come to take your falcons, give them the bird!

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    Scott, you could have mentioned Operation Falcon from the early 80s. It's one of the reasons falconers as a group severely distrust the federal government. Also could have mentioned that falconers saved the peregrine falcon from extinction in the US.

  • ||

    he stands around, only partly dressed.

    Intentionally or not?

    No offense to Mr. Seaman, but choosing to go outside without a shirt on could be confused with being removed from your home without being allowed to properly dress yourself.

  • Eddy||

    Turning and turning in a widening gyre
    The falcon cannon hear the falconer
    Things fall apart, the center cannot hold
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world

  • Alcibiades||

    Hey, this is the comments section of Hit, we don't have no truck with any of that fancy shmancy book learnin' round these parts.

  • Raspberry243||

    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
    The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity.

  • SQRLSY One||

    The cabin boy, the cabin boy,
    The dirty little nipper;
    He filled his ass with broken glass,
    And circumcised the Skipper!

    The Captain's daughter, Mable,
    Was ready, willing and able,
    To fornicate with the second mate
    Upon the chartroom table!

    The Captain's daughter, Mary,
    Had never lost her cherry,
    The men grew bold, and offered gold:
    Now there's no Virgin Mary!

  • Alcibiades||

    That's some fine verse there, rymes proper an' all.

  • Remember to keep it all polit||

    Aye.

  • SQRLSY One||

    Falconers to train their birds to dive-bomb-shit all over the Government Almighty overlords!!!!

  • Alcibiades||

    Could falcons be trained to recognize game wardens approaching...?

  • Longtobefree||

    So this is about common sense bird control?
    All of these outrages have been part and parcel of gun ownership since 1934.

  • Homple||

    The game wardens don't have a warrant, and they don't believe they need one to enter Seaman's home. Remarkably, this is happening because Seaman is attempting to follow the law. He's a legally licensed falconer in California, and part of California's regulations grants the state's Department of Fish and Wildlife the authority to conduct unannounced inspections of any facility where falcons are being cared for.

    The regulations don't require that the wardens have reasonable suspicion that the birds are being mistreated or that any sort of illegal behavior is happening. And if Seaman resists or refuses to let them in, he could lose his falconry license and be forced to surrender the birds.

    When millennials have replaced boomers and GenXers, you can republish this article replacing "birds" with "firearms". There will probably be pot food trucks and for consolation.

  • cgr2727||

    What about the Air Force Academy's falcon mascot? It's used for marketing, recruitment, and other sorts of tomfoolery. As with all else, it's ok if our betters in Government do it, but us poor peasants best not poach on the king's land. Incidentally, what ever happened to the Army cadets who kidnapped the AF mascot and injured it so badly it had to be euthanized?

    Full disclosure, I post this as an AF veteran who thinks the falcon mascot is really cool. I don't think the Academy should give up its mascot. I think we the people out to be able to do whatever the hell we want with our falcons, especially if we're forced to get a permission slip for them in the first place.

  • Red Rocks White Privilege||

    Incidentally, what ever happened to the Army cadets who kidnapped the AF mascot and injured it so badly it had to be euthanized?

    It wasn't euthanized. The Army cadets injured it pretty badly, but it recovered and is flying again.

  • Shirley Knott||

    Now I'm curious what, if anything, happened to the Army brats.

  • Marcus Aurelius||

    I believe the air Force uses falcons to cull smaller birds at most of their air fields. Maybe they want a monopoly? I know I've seen them in 80s TV shows, sounds like the audoban society got some well meaning legislation passed.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    You libertarians and your focus on petty local regulations...

  • Red Rocks White Privilege||

    Part of the problem is that these guys are all white. If they were Arabic, they could just claim racism for the wardens interfering with an activity that's been part of their culture for centuries, and Cali would back down pretty quick.

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    Actually, falconry originated in the Middle East and is still hugely popular there. There are many Arabic falconers.

  • Juice||

    This History of English Podcast had an episode on hunt that talks about a bunch of English words and phrases that come from falconry, like "fed up," "booze," "under my thumb," "wrapped around my little finger," etc.

  • Deconstructed Potato||

    I believe he is aware of falconry's prominence and heritage in middle eastern cultures and that was the basis for his /sarc. You, on the other hand, swoop right in, skim a post, pick some low hanging fruit from the know-it-all tree, and convince yourself you've just intellectually one-upped another one of those dullards over on the H&R comments again. I actually thought you were pretty chill when I first ventured into the H&R comments, but I have seen a pattern of you suffering a bad case of the "Actuallyyyy...". I got no problem with people being that guy, but I feel like you don't parse posts correctly, or read them with an assumption that many of the rest of us are just thick as borscht, which I know is basically how online discussion works, but actually despite certain bad actors, I don't think reason comments are all that bad, really, so I thought I'd mention that.

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    I am surprised the wardens' lack of need for warrants has not been challenged earlier. Drug warriors often bring a game warden with them on raids so he can "inspect a property for game law violations, oh, and I saw some suspicious white powder in there."

  • Robert||

    This is why they don't allow home distilling: They'd have to violate your 4th amendment rights to inspect you if the still were in your home.

  • Eddy||

    Maybe that the theme of the Geto Boyz's song Still.

    (Technically I didn't link to it so I'm not responsible for the NSFW content)

  • BenjaminTheDonkey||

    Now I want to watch "The Falcon & The Snowman" again.

  • Eddy||

    Or The Sound and the Fury by William Falconer.

  • Eddy||

    I am so already sick and tired of these falcon regulations.

    Whenever people have a good thing going, there's the government falcon it up.

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