At the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) on Feb. 27, 2009, the National Rifle Association's fiery Wayne LaPierre teed off on one of President Barack Obama's lesser-known appointees.
The target: Cass Sunstein, a Harvard Law School professor who was tapped to head up the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, a position better known as the administration's regulatory czar.
LaPierre opened with a zinger: "Sunstein is a radical animal rights extremist who makes PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) look like cheerleaders with pooper-scoopers."
How extreme? LaPierre said Sunstein is "a man who wants to give legal standing to animals so they can sue you for eating meat."
LaPierre isn't alone in making similar claims. Go to the self-explanatory Web site StopSunstein.com, sponsored by the American Conservative Union, and you'll find this quote from one of Sunstein's books: "Animals should be permitted to bring suit, with human beings as their representatives …"
The quote comes from Sunstein's 2004 book Animal Rights: Current Debates and New Directions . We call your attention to Chapter 11, titled "Can Animals Sue?" Sunstein argues that there are already plenty of animal cruelty laws on the books that just aren't enforced.
"My simplest suggestion is that private citizens should be given the right to bring suits to prevent animals from being treated in a way that violates current law. I offer a recommendation that is theoretically modest but that should do a lot of practical good: laws designed to protect animals against cruelty and abuse should be amended and interpreted to give a private cause of action against those who violate them, so as to allow private people to supplement the efforts of public prosecutors. Somewhat more broadly, I will suggest that animals should be permitted to bring suit, with human beings as their representatives, to prevent violations of current law."
In a speech at Harvard in 2007, Sunstein argued there is "a real gap" in the laws governing animal cruelty laws, essentially that prosecutors have a monopoly in making sure those laws are followed. "The law should be changed to give affected persons, interested persons, those who have some sort of connection with the animal, a right to sue either for damages or for an injunction to get that violation of what is standard already in law to stop."
That Sunstein is an animal rights activist is undisputed. For a CNN interview in the late 1990s, he once insisted on being joined on-air by his dog, a Rhodesian Ridgeback named Perry. And LaPierre is correct when he says that Sunstein has talked about allowing animals to sue — albeit through a human representative. But we think LaPierre has twisted Sunstein's words. Sunstein wasn't saying you — the meat eater — could be sued by Porky Pig for eating bacon. But he was saying that if the pig that winds up on your breakfast plate was raised or killed in a way that violates existing animal cruelty laws, then someone ought to be able to sue the processor on the pig's behalf. That's all, folks.
We rate LaPierre's statement Half True.