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Proposition 4: Traversing the Courts

Published 06/15/02
Source: Animal Issues, Volume 33 Number 2, Summer 2002

In 1998, California voters overwhelmingly passed (by 57.5%) Proposition 4, the state ballot initiative introduced by API and six other animal advocacy organizations in a coalition called ProPAW (Protect Pets and Wildlife).

Prop. 4 seeks to conserve California wildlife and companion animals by restricting certain forms of recreational and commercial trapping, most uses of leghold traps and neck snares, as well as the poisons commonly known as Compound 1080 and sodium cyanide.

One month following the passage of Prop. 4, various federal employees voluntarily discontinued trapping activities to protect birds listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) without any threat of enforcement by the state of California. Immediately, following the removal of traps, five non-profit organizations, led by the National Audubon Society and the California Waterfowl Association, a duck-hunting group, sued the State of California and the federal government to allow the use of the leghold trap to protect federally protected bird species from predation. National Audubon Society, et al. v. Gray Davis, et al., No. 98-4610 (N.D. Cal. Nov. 30, 2000), appeal docketed, No. 01-15216 (9th Cir., Jan. 15, 2001).

Joining the State

Shortly thereafter, when it appeared that the federal government would not defend Prop. 4, API and the rest of ProPAW — the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, The Ark Trust, Doris Day Animal League, The Fund for Animals, The Humane Society of the United States, and the International Fund for Animal Welfare — joined the suit on the side of the State.

Audubon argued that California’s trapping prohibition was invalid because it violated the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution, which invalidates state laws that interfere with, or are contrary to, federal law. The plaintiffs also argued that various federal laws preempted the trapping ban, including the ESA, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA), and the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act.

ProPAW argued that federal law did not preempt the trapping ban because the ban could be interpreted so as not to interfere with federal conservation efforts. Shortly thereafter, the National Trappers Association (NTA) and other groups and individuals with similar interests moved to intervene on the side of the plaintiffs. The trappers challenged the ban on the grounds that it violated the Commerce Clause and Due Process Clause of the United States Constitution and was preempted by the ESA and Animal Damage Control Act.

On November 30, 2000, nearly two years after the initial suit was filed, the District Court for the Northern District of California denied the NTA the right to intervene in the case and subsequently granted Audubon’s motion for summary judgment, thereby holding that Prop. 4 can not be enforced against federal trapping programs pursuant to the ESA, the MBTA, and the Property Clause of the Constitution, thus allowing the federal government to trap on federal property for any means. ProPAW, the State, and the trappers appealed that decision to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

ProPAW’s Argument

On April 9, 2002, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments on the case. ProPAW argued that: (1) the district court erred in allowing the Audubon Plaintiffs to proceed in the case in violation of the 11th Amendment; (2) Audubon did not have standing to sue; (3) the district court was in error when it stated that the federal government could trap as necessary under the authority of the MBTA even though Congress has explicitly made clear that the MBTA is subject to the laws of the state, i.e. California; (4) the district court was in error when it stated that the federal government could trap under authority of the Property Clause; and (5) that the NTA was rightfully denied intervention in the lawsuit because it lacked standing to sue. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal is expected to rule on the case within the next three to six months.

The Washington, DC law firm of Meyer & Glitzenstein continues to represent the animal advocacy coalition on appeal.

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