U.S. Supreme Court Declines to Hear Appeal of Cavel Decision

Update June 18, 2008: The U.S. Supreme Court has declined the petition by Cavel International, Inc. to hear its claim that an Illinois law banning horse slaughter for human consumption violates the U.S. Constitution and federal statutes. 

The decision upholding this law banning  horse slaughter in Illinois for human consumption is now final. For more on the law, read Animal Law Coalition’s earlier reports below.   

Update December 12, 2007: Cavel International, Inc. owner of the now shuttered horse slaughtering plant in Dekalb, Illinois, is not giving up in its quest to continue the profitable, but horrific practice of brutally slaughtering horses for their meat. Cavel has announced plans to petition the U.S. Supreme Court to hear its claim that an Illinois law banning horse slaughter for human consumption violates the U.S. Constitution and federal statutes. 

The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a similar appeal earlier this year from owners of Texas horse slaughterhouses closed when the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a Texas state law banning horse slaughter for human consumption.   

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has already rejected Cavel’s arguments and upheld the new Illinois law. For more on the arguments Cavel is likely to make before the Supreme Court and how the 7th Circuit has already responded to them, read Animal Law Coalition’s report below.  

Original report: In a unanimous ruling issued today, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld the Illinois law passed this year that bans the slaughter of horses for human consumption.

The law targeted a horse slaughter plant located in DeKalb, Illinois, one of 3 in the U.S.  Well, one of 3 until the Fifth Circuit shut down the 2 Texas horse slaughter plants this past year, upholding a heretofore unenforced 1949 law banning slaughter of horses for human consumption.  For more on that opinion, click here. Fifth Circuit Shuts Down Horse Slaughter Plants 

Another federal court in Washington, D.C. then stopped horse slaughter in all 3 plants. For a review of that opinion, click here. Federal District Court Ends Horse Slaughter for Human Consumption in U.S.

Then just to make sure the Illinois horse slaughter industry could not be resurrected, the state legislature passed and Illinois Governor Rod R. Blagojjevich signed H.B. 1711, now 225 ILCS 635, making it illegal in that state to slaughter horses for human consumption. Under the new law it is also illegal "to import into or export from this State, or to sell, buy, give away, hold, or accept any horse meat if that person knows or should know that the horse meat will be used for human consumption." § 635/1.5(b).

Cavel International, Inc., owner of the now defunct Illinois horse slaughterhouse, filed suit in federal court to challenge the new law. And the Seventh Circuit has now rejected that challenge.

The Court noted, "Horse meat was until recently an accepted part of the American diet-the Harvard Faculty Club served horse-meat steaks until the 1970s. No longer is horse meat eaten by Americans". The meat from the 40,000-60,000 horses slaughtered by Cavel International, Inc. each year at the Dekalb facility were "exported to such countries as Belgium, France, and Japan.

Indeed, Cavel is the subsidiary of a Belgian company…. [I]n some countries it is a delicacy".  

The Court rejected that the Federal Meat Inspection Act, 21 U.S.C. § 601 et seq, pre-empted the new state law.  The court pointed out that simply because the federal law regulates the production of horse meat does not mean states must allow horse slaughter.

Cavel also argued the Illinois law violated the Commerce Clause because it "unduly interfere[s] with the foreign commerce of the United States".  The Court rejected that claim, noting the new law does not discriminate and serves a purpose:  

States have a legitimate interest in prolonging the lives of animals that their population happens to like. …They can ban bullfights and cockfights and the abuse and neglect of animals. Of course Illinois could do much more for horses than it does-could establish old-age pastures for them, so that they would never be killed (except by a stray cougar), or provide them with free veterinary care. But it is permitted to balance its interest in horses’ welfare against the other interests of its (human) population; and it is also permitted to take one step at a time on a road toward the humane treatment of our fellow animals….

[E]ven if no horses live longer as a result of the new law, a state is permitted, within reason, to express disgust at what people do with the dead, whether dead human beings or dead animals. There would be an uproar if restaurants in Chicago started serving cat and dog steaks, even though millions of stray cats and dogs are euthanized in animal shelters. A follower of John Stuart Mill would disapprove of a law that restricted the activities of other people (in this case not only Cavel’s owners and employees but also its foreign consumers) on the basis merely of distaste, but American governments are not constrained by Mill’s doctrine."

The Court also found any burden on foreign commerce was minimal.

Now, if Congress will pass and President George Bush will sign the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act! For more on this bill and how you can help pass it, click here.  Help Pass the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act!