Seeds: “…the source, origin, or beginning of anything…”1

i Aug 30th

The last few decades have seen the birth and exponential growth of a new field of jurisprudence,2 mostly in the United States, but also elsewhere in the world: Animal Law.

According to Wikipedia,

Animal law is a combination of statutory and case law in which the nature – legal, social or biological – of nonhuman animals is an important factor. Animal law encompasses companion animals, wildlife, animals used in entertainment and animals raised for food and research. The emerging field of animal law is often analogized to the environmental law movement because “animal law faces many of the same legal and strategic challenges that environmental law faced in seeking to establish a more secure foothold in the United States and abroad.”

If seeds are “the source, origin, or beginning of anything,” important historical questions arise: What were the seeds of Animal Law, and who planted them in the United States?

Joyce Tischler, attorney, founder, and president of Animal Legal Defense Fund3 has identified the beginning of Animal Law in America. It was when ISAR and its long-time chairman, Professor Henry Mark Holzer, brought a constitutional challenge against a religious exemption to the federal Humane Slaughter Act. The federal case was entitled Jones, et al. v. Butz (374 F.Supp. 1284, D.C.N.Y. 1974).4

Ms. Tischler wrote that:

His earliest involvement with animal rights came as a result of a small donation he made to the New York based group, Friends of Animals. Alice Herrington, then President of Friends of Animals, called Holzer, inviting him to join her for dinner at her home. They discussed a variety of issues, but what caught his attention, as a constitutional lawyer, was Herrington’s description of the federal Humane Methods of Livestock Slaughter Act of 1958 (hereinafter, “Humane Slaughter Act” or “Act”).In the 1970s: First there was one. Henry Mark (“Hank”) Holzer was a New York attorney who had practiced in the areas of constitutional and appellate law before joining the faculty of Brooklyn Law School in 1972.

The Humane Slaughter Act specified that in order for slaughter to be considered humane, livestock must be “rendered insensible to pain by a single blow or gunshot or an electrical, chemical or other means that is rapid and effective, before being shackled, hoisted, thrown, cast, or cut…”

However, the Act also authorized, notwithstanding the previous definition of humane slaughter,

“slaughtering in accordance with the ritual requirements of the Jewish faith or any other religious faith that prescribes a method of slaughter whereby the animal suffers loss of consciousness by anemia of the brain caused by the simultaneous and instantaneous severance of the carotid arteries with a sharp instrument…”

Additionally, the Act created a specific exemption for ritual slaughter: “[R]itual slaughter and the handling or other preparation of livestock for ritual slaughter are exempted from the terms of this [Act].” Holzer thought the creation of an exemption to federal law that provided special protections to the dietary preferences of a particular religious group violated the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses of the First Amendment.

That federal case was the first in the United States to expressly invoke the moral/ legal concept of “animal rights.” According to Tischler, the Butz case began the Animal Law movement in the United States.

And, she wrote, “[Professor Henry Mark] Holzer established his place as ‘the first animal rights lawyer’ in the United States.” (Our emphasis.)

ISAR and Professor Holzer followed the Butz case with a lawsuit Jones v. Beame, 45 N.Y.2d 402 (1978) that was the first state case in America invoke the moral/legal concept of animal rights.

ISAR and Professor Holzer founded the Animal Rights Law Reporter, which, according to Joyce Tischler, became “the legal clearinghouse for animal rights law information”5

ISAR and Professor Holzer organized and sponsored the “First National Conference on Animal Rights Law,” attended by Ms. Tischler and other lawyers interested in Animal Law. At that conference, for the first time Professor Holzer publicly articulated his vision for using the law on behalf of animals.

Largely thanks to Joyce Tischler and a few colleagues, the major result from the Conference was to coalesce the attending lawyers, and others, into an informal network of like-minded individuals, and to identify the tools necessary to create an entirely new, separate field of law—one which would take its deserved place among other long-recognized practice areas such as corporate law, property law, criminal law and many others.

These were the seeds that ISAR and Professor Henry Mark Holzer planted.

What has grown from them in three decades is stunning:

  • Courses in animal law are taught in virtually every major law school in America, usually using books expressly written for that subject by Animal Law lawyers.
  • Conferences are frequently held for lawyers practicing Animal Law.
  • Lawyers draft Animal Law legislation, and lobby for their enactment.
  • Dozens of law schools have nationally recognized programs in Animal Law.
  • Other law schools hold moot court competitions on Animal Law subjects.
  • There is a national Animal Law moot court competition.
  • Professional law journals devoted solely to Animal Law are published.
  • Animal Law lawyers testify before legislative committees.
  • ISAR is proud of how the seeds we and Professor Henry Mark Holzer planted have flourished. From time to time we’ll let our supporters know what new flowers have sprouted in today’s jurisprudentially recognized field of Animal Law.Laypersons with Animal Law problems use specialist lawyers.
  • Articles, monographs and books on Animal Law proliferate.
  • National animal protection organizations have Animal Law lawyers on their permanent staffs.
  • More and more college students enter law school to practice Animal Law.
  • Animal Law lawyers consult with lawyers who need specialized help.
  • State and local bar associations have Animal Law sections and committees.
  • Lawyers file “friend-of-the-court” Animal Law briefs in many courts.
  • The American Bar Association has an Animal Law subcommittee.
  • Animal Law lawyers litigate cases in federal and state courts throughout the U.S.

  1. Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language (Second College Edition).
  2. “the science or philosophy of law…a part or division of law/medical Jurisprudence.” Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language (Second College Edition). There are many other examples: tort, family, criminal, securities, real estate, family, and more.
  3. Animal Legal Defense Fund
  4. History of Animal Law, Part I (1972 – 1987).” A Brief History of Animal Law, Part II (1985 – 2011).
  5. Animal Rights Law Reporter was published quarterly from 1980 – 1983. Each issue began with a segment entitled, “In the Courts,” which outlined significant court cases involving animals. The issues also contained a section for “In the Legislatures,” where recent animal-related legislation was discussed. “In the Legal Literature” gave updates on pertinent legal articles in the field. Finally, the Reporter provided a quarterly “Bulletin Board,” “Available Resources,” and “Editor’s Comment” from Professor Holzer. The Reporter communicated developments in animal rights law, and kept its readers abreast of all current pending federal legislation which affected animal rights, as well as state legislation.