Washington Post Covers Lawsuit Seeking Information on Cruel Kitten Experiments at USDA

Today the Washington Post covered a new Freedom of Information Act lawsuit that my office filed on behalf of White Coast Waste Project seeking to compel the Department of Agriculture to provide information on cruel experiments to kittens.

Using documents obtained through an earlier FOIA request, White Coat Waste showed that the USDA Agricultural Research Service laboratory breeds up to 100 kittens a year, feeds the 2-month-old kittens Toxoplasma-infected raw meat, collects their feces for 2-3 weeks to harvest the parasite for use in other experiments, and then kills and incinerates the kittens.

White Coat Waste requested to protocols governing these experiments, but the USDA has, to date, refused to provide them. So we’re suing for them.

In response to White Coat Waste’s exposé of these experiments, Representative Mike Bishop (R-Mich.) and Representative Jimmy Panetta (D-Calif.) introduced the Kittens in Traumatic Testing Ends Now (KITTEN) Act (H.R. 5780), aimed at ending USDA testing that causes pain to cats or kittens.

Tell Congress to pass the bipartisan KITTEN Act to defund these deadly taxpayer-funded experiments and urge USDA to adopt out the cats.

Join Us to Demand an End to Inhumane Conditions at Detention Centers

Last May, eight asylum seekers began a peaceful hunger strike to call attention to the inhumane conditions at Adelanto Detention Center.  In return, they were violently assaulted, pepper sprayed, and thrown in segregation, where they were denied access to their families, advocates and lawyers.  Those young men have now filed a civil rights lawsuit against ICE, GEO Group, and the City of Adelanto.  Join us at this very important press event to support the men, to uplift their voices, and to make clear to ICE and this Administration that the incarceration of migrants -- and the inhumane separation of parents and children -- has to end.

WHAT:    Press conference & rally announcing the lawsuit

WHEN:   Tuesday, July 24, 2018

TIME:     10AM (start gathering at 9:30AM)

WHERE: 300 N. Los Angeles (the steps in front of the Federal Building)

WHO:    Adelanto Hunger Strikers and their civil rights attorneys, plus: human rights attorneys, immigration advocates, faith leaders, asylum seekers, unions and workers

If your organization would like to endorse this event and be named on the press materials, please  let us know.


Rachel Steinback (civil rights attorney): SteinbackLaw@gmail.com // 213.537.5370

Guillermo Torres (CLUE):  gtorres@cluejustice.org // 323.228.2753

A Victory Against Mississippi's Homophobic "Sodomy" Law

In response to a lawsuit filed by my office and the Center for Constitutional Rights, the state of Mississippi has agreed to remove 29 people from its sex offender registry who were forced to register under the state’s archaic and homophobic “sodomy” statute.

Fifteen years ago, the Supreme Court declared that laws that criminalize oral or anal sex (so-called “sodomy” laws) were an unconstitutional intrusion on the privacy, dignity, and autonomy protected by the Fourteenth Amendment. Despite this ruling, a handful of stubborn states still cling to their unconstitutional sodomy laws.

Mississippi is one of those states. Its law (Mississippi Code Annotated § 97-29-59) makes it a crime simply to have oral or anal sex. And Mississippi requires people who are convicted of having oral or anal sex to register as sex offenders—displaying their pictures and home addresses on the sex offender website and preventing them from accessing many parks, beaches, and even their own children’s schools. We filed suit to strike down the sodomy statute and the requirement that people with sodomy convictions be forced to register.

Mississippi’s sex offender law also requires people with convictions from other states to register in Mississippi if either 1) they were required to register in the state of the conviction; or 2) if their crime would have been registerable if it took place in Mississippi.

Neighboring Louisiana treats prostitution for oral or anal sex differently from prostitution for vaginal sex. While prostitution involving vaginal sex does not require registration, Louisiana mandated registration for anyone convicted under its Crimes Against Nature by Solicitation (CANS) law—i.e., exchanging oral or anal sex for money. The Center for Constitutional Rights successfully challenged that registration requirement in Louisiana, leading Louisiana to remove hundreds of people (primarily poor women of color) from its sex offender registry.

But when anyone with a Louisiana CANS conviction moved to Mississippi, Mississippi required them to register. After explaining to the state that CANS was no longer registerable in Louisiana, Mississippi asserted that it was not requiring registration because the original state required it, but that the crime would have been registerable if it took place in Mississippi because CANS convictions were equivalent to a conviction under Mississippi’s sodomy law.  

While we continue to fight to strike down Mississippi’s sodomy law and the registration requirement for sodomy convictions, we have reached an agreement with state to remove everyone who is registered for CANS convictions from the sex offender registry. The state also agreed to not require registration for CANS convictions in the future.

This victory lifts an enormous burden from the lives of these 29 people, many of whose convictions are decades old. They no longer have to report every movement to the state. Their pictures and addresses will be removed from registry. They will hopefully escape the intense social stigma that accompanies registration. Mothers and grandmothers will be able to go to parks and beaches with their children and grandchildren.

You can read the order approving the settlement here.

Judge Refuses Iowa's Request to Toss Ag Gag Lawsuit

The federal court for the Southern District of Iowa today denied the Iowa's motion to dismiss our lawsuit challenging the Iowa Ag Gag statute.

My office has represented challengers to Ag Gag laws in Utah, Idaho, North Carolina, and most recently, Iowa. Soon after we filed the lawsuit, the state moved to have it dismissed, claiming that the law did not violate anyone First Amendment rights and, even if it did, the coalition of plaintiffs did not have standing to challenge the law.

In an opinion that the Court itself characterized as "delicate and disciplined," the Court rejected Iowa's arguments and found that the challengers stated valid First Amendment claims. In so doing, the Court built on our previous judicial victories in Utah and Idaho and noted that the Iowa law suffers from various First Amendment problems, which may put the writing on the wall for the Iowa Ag Gag law's eventually demise.

The plaintiffs in the case are the Animal Legal Defense Fund, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the Center for Food Safety, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, and Bailing Out Benji. My co-counsel includes wonderful lawyers at ALDF, the ACLU of Iowa, CFS, Public Justice, and the University of Denver School of Law.

FOIA Lawsuit Results in End to Cruel Experiments and Freedom for 26 Monkeys

After a lawsuit brought by my office on behalf of the White Coat Waste Project, the Food & Drug Administration has ended cruel nicotine experiments on young monkeys and committed to sending the 26 monkeys used in the experiments to sanctuaries. The experiments involved forcing young squirrel monkeys into vests that pump them full of nicotine and putting them into a metal box, where the monkeys could hit a lever to give themselves a dose of the drug.

After White Coat Waste found a short description of experiments where the FDA addicted young monkeys to nicotine, they filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request seeking details and video of the experiments. When FDA only handed over a few pages of records, we sued.

After growing public pressure, today the agency provided all of the withheld videos of the experiments, announced that it was ending the study, and pledged to house all 26 of the monkeys at primate sanctuaries. The Washington Post and New York Times have additional coverage.

Richmond Public Transit Sued for Silencing Anti-Vivisection Ads

Today my office filed suit on behalf of White Coat Waste against the Greater Richmond Transit Company for refusing to run White Coat Waste's advertisement criticizing deadly and invasive dog experiments at the Richmond-based Hunter Holmes McGuire Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

Researchers at the McGuire VAMC have induced heart attacks in dogs, surgically implanted pacemakers in dogs and forced them to run on treadmills, and killed dogs in botched surgeries. The McGuire VAMC is the only federal laboratory conducting maximum pain experiments on dogs in which pain relief is intentionally withheld.

Because the McGuire VA’s dog experiments are funded by taxpayers, White Coat Waste Project attempted to run this ads on Richmond buses in conjunction with Tax Week this past April:


The transit company rejected the ad citing its vague policy against “political ads.”

Records obtained by White Coat Waste revealed that the transit company has recently run ads for events as "political" as the Vice Presidential debate. 

Those records also revealed that the transit company rejected ads advocating for removal of fast food restaurants from hospitals on the basis that they were "political." But the transit company's same policies would allow those fast food companies to advertise on their buses.

The transit company is operated by the City of Richmond and Chesterfield County, and as a result must follow the First Amendment like any other government actors. By discriminating against advertisers like White Coat Waste  based on their identity or message, and allowing one side of a debate to get its message out while silencing the other side, the transit company is violating the First Amendment. 

You can view a copy of the complaint here.

Two Iowa Newspapers Back Lawsuit Challenging Iowa Ag Gag Law

Since we filed our challenge challenge to Iowa's Ag Gag law earlier this month, two Iowa newspaper editorial boards have weighed in with support for the suit and against the Iowa law.

The Des Moines Register, the state's largest newspaper writes:

[A]g gag laws in Iowa and other states are based on the twisted notion that when it comes to exposing violations and problems in the nation's food chain, the government must protect the private interests of industry even if it means putting the public at risk.

These laws impose criminal penalties even in cases where all of the public disclosures are truthful, accurate and in the public interest. In other words, they make it illegal to speak the truth, which is contrary to the fundamental American principle of free speech.

How is a livestock operation harmed by the reporting of facts, unless those facts reveal uncomfortable truths?

The Quad City Times declared that the "'Ag Gag' is an affront to free speech":

Iowa lawmakers knew they were flogging their oath of office in 2012, when they criminalized filming on farms. Then-Gov. Terry Branstad was fully aware that he was probably stomping on the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution when he signed the colloquially named "Ag Gag" into law. 

None of that mattered, though. Serving special interests -- in this case, industrial farms -- trumped basic respect for constitutional principles. And, now, that disdain for free speech could be exposed for the rank patronage it was.

The public sees these laws for the special interest protections that they are. We hope to show the court that Iowa's Ag Gag law is an unconstitutional restraints on animal rights activists' First Amendment rights.

Lawsuit Filed Challenging Iowa's Ag Gag Statute

Today, my office, along with the Animal Legal Defense Fund, the ACLU of Iowa, PETA, the Center for Food Safety, Public Justice, and others, filed a lawsuit challenging Iowa’s Ag Gag law. The law criminalizes undercover investigations at factory farms and slaughterhouses, silencing animal rights activists and ensuring animal cruelty, unsafe food safety practices, environmental hazards, and inhumane working conditions go unreported. The lawsuit contends that Iowa’s Ag Gag law violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

My office, along with other members of the coalition, have already been successful in striking down Ag Gag laws in Idaho and Utah as unconstitutional.

Iowa is one of the largest states for industrial animal agriculture. Iowa is by far the country’s biggest producer of pigs raised for meat and hens raised for eggs. More than 20 million pigs and 45 million egg-laying hens are raised in Iowa each year, with tens of millions more cows, chickens, turkeys, and goats raised in the state. The vast majority of these animals are raised on factory farms, subject to intensive confinement, routine mutilations, and deplorable conditions.

Undercover investigations are one of the few ways for the public to receive critical information about animal agriculture operations. A 2012 consumer survey conducted by Purdue University’s Department of Agricultural Economics and Department of Animal Sciences found that the public relies on the information gathered and presented by animal protection groups and investigative journalists more than they rely on industry groups and the government combined.

View the complaint here.

The Animal Law Podcast Features Utah Ag Gag Victory

I had the pleasure of being a guest on this month's episode of the wonderful Animal Law Podcast, hosted by Mariann Sullivan of Our Hen House. We discussed the recent victory in defeating Utah's Ag Gag law and the state of Ag Gag laws generally.

The podcast is a consistent and great source for learning about the state of animal law -- as I say in the interview, I've been listening since the first episode. Subscribe to the podcast via iTunes, Stitcher, or the RSS feed for Android devices, or listen to the episode directly from this page.

Thanks to Mariann and the podcast for having me on!

Court Tells Slaughterhouse to Pay Animal Rights Protesters' Lawyers Nearly $100,000 for Filing SLAPP Suit

In May, the Los Angeles Superior Court threw out a lawsuit brought by Pico Rivera cow slaughterhouse Manning Beef against activists who hold vigils outside of its slaughter facility. The Court found that the slaughterhouse's case was a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP)--an action usually filed by a wealthy person or corporation seeking to silence (usually poor) critics by putting them through the costs of mounting a legal defense. California's Anti-SLAPP statute allows for early dismissal of such lawsuits and imposes monetary consequences on the plaintiff to discourage such suits from being filed in the first place and to encourage attorneys to represent people who are sued for exercising their First Amendment rights.

Now the Court has ordered Manning Beef to pay my office, along with the Animal Legal Defense Fund and Ryan Gordon of Advancing Law for Animals, $94,500 in attorneys' fees in defending the activists against Manning Beef's SLAPP suit.

Hopefully such awards will discourage future would-be plaintiffs from suing their critics for exercising their First Amendment rights.