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April 4, 2013

A Real Legal Circus for HSUS

Well, the Humane Society of the United States is at it again.

Somewhere between fighting the classic animal rights battle of banning traditional ammunition and dictating appropriate ways for you to hunt, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) managed to find time to sue the circus. Seriously.

HSUS sued the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus in Federal court over claims by a former employee that the circus mistreated elephants.

Unfortunately for the Humane Society, the judge in the case decided the joke was on the clowns at HSUS. A judge cleared the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus of all charges after determining the Humane Society failed “to produce any credible evidence that any of them had standing to pursue their claims.” As punishment for taking such a “frivolous, unreasonable and groundless” case to court, the Humane Society must now pay the legal bills incurred by the circus and its corporate parent. All $20 million worth. Oops.

It’s just the bill coming due for misrepresenting their mission for decades. HSUS raises hundreds of millions of dollars every year from people who believe they are supporting abandoned dogs and malnourished kittens. Meanwhile, HSUS doesn’t operate a single shelter, but has championed legislation and litigation in various states to ban traditional ammunition. They are also historic supporters of ballot initiatives to ban hunting seasons and traditional methods of the hunt, as Wayne Pacelle proudly notes in this recent article. Check out the accompanying illustration of gun barrels pointed at a leghold trap, all being rained upon by the green leaves of sweetness and light.

Note the group is trumpeting that it is gathering signatures to push a new ballot initiative to ban wolf management in Michigan. This is a clear trial balloon, and they have specifically picked a state where they have had previous success banning a dove season by the same method. After years of litigation over the status of wolves under ESA, Congress last year settled the issue and wolf management is proceeding apace, after politicians of both parties realized they had to do something to address grassroots outrage from ranchers, hunters, and conservationists. Now, HSUS is ready to take a match to a tinderbox that has barely stopped smoldering.

It’s hard to tell whether the Humane Society is genuine or just trying to make a publicity splash by pursuing initiatives like this. Either way, the outcome of the circus case illustrates that they’re getting some really bad legal advice.

Larry Keane is senior vice president and general counsel for the National Shooting Sports Foundation. Follow him on Twitter at @lkeane.

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