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Palliative Animal Law

By Lauren Choplin

“Contrary to the conventional narrative, more prosecutions and longer sentences are not paving a path to animal rights.” – Justin Marceau, “Palliative Animal Law: The War on Animal Cruelty” (Harvard Law Review, March 2021)

A core belief of the Nonhuman Rights Project is that, if we are to secure meaningful, lasting legal change for nonhuman animals within a social justice framework, animal advocates must be willing to question the assumptions that underlie animal advocacy and change course if necessary. This means continually asking: what do people and organizations working to vindicate the interests of nonhuman animals see as worthwhile goals, effective tactics, and meaningful signs of progress, and why? Where do we need to be vigilant to ensure animal advocacy isn’t reinforcing, and is instead helping to eradicate, bias and injustice in the legal system and culture at large?

Justin Marceau—a Professor of Law at the University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law who has submitted several amicus briefs in support of our nonhuman rights cases, most recently this one co-signed by 49 other animal law professors—has taken on these issues with welcome boldness and rigor. As we’ve written about before on this blog, his book Beyond Cages: Animal Law and Criminal Punishment (Cambridge University Press) points to a problematic tendency among mainstream animal advocacy organizations to focus excessively on, and to celebrate, criminal punishment—for example, more and longer sentences for animal abusers—as a means of generating support and effecting legal change to help nonhuman animals. He has just published a follow-up article in the Harvard Law Review, extending these arguments to a critique of the Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture (PACT) Act, signed into law in 2019. We think the article will resonate with NhRP supporters. You can read it at this link or download it here as a PDF.

If you’re interested in learning more about Justin Marceau’s work and its connections to the NhRP’s mission, also check out this Zoom conversation between Justin and NhRP President Steven M. Wise, which is part of our Interview Series with friends of the NhRP:

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