Animal Law Committee Celebrates 30th Anniversary

As the New York City Bar Association celebrates its 150th anniversary, the City Bar’s Animal Law Committee is reaching a milestone of its own: 30 years as the nation’s first bar committee on animal law.

Animal law — for those unfamiliar with the term — is the body of law concerning non-human animals. Because its core feature is simply a link to animals, animal law can involve any number of legal fields, including property, torts, environmental law, trusts and estates, criminal law, consumer protection, constitutional law, and tax.

The Animal Law Committee has been a key contributor to animal law since our founding in 1990. To date the Committee has organized more than 120 public programs and CLEs, including one of the country’s first conferences on animal law and a seminal conference on The Legal Status of Non-Human Animals. Our speakers have included leading academics, including Peter Singer, Mariann Sullivan, Gary Francione, and Steven Wise; federal, state, and city legislators and officials; judges; scientists; activists; and attorneys in the private, public, and non-profit sectors. The Committee has issued over 200 reports, letters, and pieces of testimony on legislation, rulemaking, and treaties. And we have worked on a host of other items, including pamphlets and guides, articles, and amicus briefs. Our work has been mentioned in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, National Geographic, the New York Law Journal, the Animal Law Review, and numerous other newspapers, law reviews, and publications.

The Committee has been not only prolific but also prescient, taking stances on animal-related issues long before they received wider public attention. For instance, we organized early programs on the link between animal cruelty and human violence; the impact of industrial animal agriculture on the environment; puppy mills; and efforts to prohibit companies from marking soy-based beverages as “soy milk.” More recently, the Committee has issued report on several topics garnering media coverage, including the Trump Administration’s rollbacks to the Endangered Species Act; New York State’s ban on declawing cats; efforts to ban mammoth ivory because of its impact on the illegal elephant ivory trade; and New York City’s proposed ban on products made by force-feeding birds.

Inspired by the City Bar’s leadership on social justice issues, this term the Animal Law Committee is focusing its programs and reports on intersections between animal-related issues and marginalized or historically underprivileged groups. We believe that animal rights and civil rights are inextricably linked and that social justice movements advocating for disenfranchised populations have significant parallels and much to learn from one another. To that end, this term we are organizing programs on the use of animals in prisons to promote rehabilitation in the criminal justice system; on parallels between civil rights movements and the animal rights movement; and how climate change impacts vulnerable populations, including both people and animals.

For those interested in animals and the law — or in social justice issues generally — we encourage you to participate in our Committee, read our reports, and attend our events. Our published reports and upcoming programs are available on our page on the City Bar’s website.