Should the Thirteenth Amendment, which outlaws slavery and involuntary servitude in the Unites States, apply to non-human animals? That’s the question raised by a new lawsuit filed by People for the Ethical Treatment for Animals, which alleges that five orca whales owned by Sea World in California and Florida are living under involuntary servitude.

Many people have dismissed this case as frivilous or a publicity stunt, but James McWilliams warns that the lawsuit raises important questions, and has wide ranging implications — including the potential end of factory farming:

A final point to consider before dismissing the PETA lawsuit altogether is the fact that it might not be just Sea World that stands to lose. The issue of animal rights sends shivers down the spine of industrial agriculture. And it should. Expanding the Constitution to include non-human animals could very well be be the most potent threat ever delivered to factory farming, a behemoth of an industry responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions, land degradation, antibiotic use, fertilizer run-off, and pesticide application that any other industry on Earth. Legal aftershocks are always hard to predict, but should orcas be deemed protected under the Thirteenth Amendment, the sentient mammals at the core of factory farming could very well be next. The ecological, health, and ethical gains to be achieved by such an development would be immeasurable.

As I said in my previous post on this issue, PETA is certainly taking a novel and thought-provoking approach, but I’m not sure the lawsuit has a legal future:

State and federal courts have traditionally understood laws dealing with animal ownership and cruelty as applying only to human actions, meaning the animals themselves could neither be prosecuted nor act as plaintiffs or defendants. That would include litigation and legislation involving hunting and breeding of animals and plants, as well as zoo and circus displays.