By Ryan Gierach, West Hollywood, California
Last month after a federal court dismissed Mayfair House’s suit challenging the West Hollywood fur ban as “unconstitutional,” store owners and associates declared they would continue the fight at the state level.
In early May, US District Judge George King upheld the ordinance that banned the sale of fur clothing inside West Hollywood, dismissing the plaintiff’s due process, equal protection, and civil rights claims against the city.
Still, Larry Lasoff, an attorney for Mayfair, noted at the time that “The dismissal of the two federal claims does not constitute a validation of the Ordinance. In fact, the Federal Court decision does nothing to prevent the California state courts from taking a look at those issues.”
He went on to add that Mayfair would welcome a review of the claims it has raised under the California Constitution, which go to the heart of the issue of whether the City of West Hollywood overstepped its bounds in supplanting its judgment for the state legislature and depriving Mayfair and others in West Hollywood the opportunity to engage in business activities that are legitimate in every jurisdiction in the United States.
The law prohibits the sale of any garment made in whole or part from the pelt or skin of an animal with its hair, wool or fur. The ban does not extend to furniture items, blankets, or leather products.
The state law suit was filed late last week by the boutique in the swanky Avenues district of WeHo in L.A. County Superior Court, claiming the ban violates the state constitution by allowing a city to enact wildlife regulations.
West Hollywood resident Keith Kaplan, who ironically works as the Executive Director, Fur Information Council of America, says that the ban not only endangers small business at little to no relief for the animals in question.
“Mayfair House, one of the area’s leading UGGS© retailers, remains committed to individual freedom of choice and the consumer’s right to buy these hugely popular shearling products. They also remain strongly opposed to this type of arbitrary ban that affects only certain categories of businesses and bears no impact on the health or well-being of humans or animals, but does bring significant harm to local small businesses,” he said.
“Based on their strong belief that the ordinance is unlawful and unjust, and runs roughshod over the right of individuals to engage in legitimate business activity in West Hollywood, they will continue to challenge the merits of the ordinance under the California legal system.”
In the hearing in which Judge George H. King upheld the, calling it legitimate. “That the city did not choose to completely ban the sale of fur does not interfere with its goal of promoting the humane treatment of animals,” the judge said, according to Bloomberg. “The city is free to make incremental change, rather than adopt an entire ban on the sale of fur at once.”
Those incremental changes and their eventual result are what Mr. Kaplan and Mayfair House fear.
“This is a slippery slope,” said Mr. Kaplan. “For example, the city has just gone through a discussion about the city flag. It sets a precedent that could mean a ban by a neighboring community on flying gay flags.”
Officials of the Humane Society of the United States applauded the ruling and said that it encourages other cities to implement similar prohibitions.
“West Hollywood is one of the nation’s most animal-friendly cities – a notion that’s just incompatible with the inhumane treatment of fur-bearing animals. We applaud the Court’s decision to uphold the City’s groundbreaking ordinance,” Ralph Henry, deputy director for The HSUS’ Animal Protection Litigation Group said in a statement. “The ruling makes clear that the Constitution does not prevent West Hollywood or any other city from using its lawmaking powers to protect animals by prohibiting the sale of cruelly-produced products.”
The city stands pat as well. “The city adopted the ordinance banning the sale of fur apparel products because the sale of these products in the City of West Hollywood is inconsistent with the city’s reputation as a Cruelty Free Zone for animals, and the city’s goal of being a community that cares about animal welfare,” City PIO Lisa Belsanti said last year.
Still, West Hollywood retailer Mayfair House owner Johanna Judah, who filed a lawsuit, says, “The ordinance is an ill-considered and illegal law that is harmful to the City, its consumer citizens and business residents. It was passed by City Councilmen who have the political support of national animal rights activist groups who wish to impose their will over others despite the unconstitutional nature of the Ordinance,” said Ms. Judah in a press release.
Her attorneys, Kelley Drye & Warren LLP, say the lawsuit calls the fur ban unlawful and void under the California Constitution, which states that the Legislature has exclusive authority to enact legislation that protects wildlife.
One civic leader took exception to the idea of bans. Steve Martin, former city council member said in an op-ed on the subject,
“My concerns about the fur ban crystallized when I heard John D’Amico explain that it was not the intent of the ban to stop people from buying fur; after all, anyone intent on owning a fur coat need only cross the street to Beverly Hills.
“The point, he said, was to make people pause and give then an opportunity to think about the issue. Unfortunately, that is not what proponents of the ban are saying. They want the sale of fur banned nationally; West Hollywood is just the first step.
“They don’t want you to have the opportunity to think about it, they will do your thinking for you by eliminating your option to buy fur.”
Meanwhile, and despite the praise and international attention the ordinance has drawn (or because of it?), no other municipality has followed West Hollywood’s lead.
In related news, however, a WTO ruling on seal hunts was claimed as a victory by conservationists and animal welfare activists who have been campaigning for years against such hunts in Canada and Norway on moral grounds.
The Guardian reports that, “November’s ruling found flaws in the seal hunt ban, but found overall that: “It fulfils the objective of addressing EU public moral concerns on seal welfare to a certain extent, and no alternative measure was demonstrated to make an equivalent or greater contribution to the fulfilment of the objective.”
“The report from WTO panel is a victory for seals, animal welfare and Europeans,” Sonja Van Tichelen, EU regional director for the International Federation for Animal Welfare, said in a statement.
“Canadian Inuit leaders, speaking to CBC radio ahead of the decision, argued that the ban was discriminatory.
“They’re basing it on public morals and, when you do that, you’re in danger of all the other industries being banned in the same way. I mean, who’s to say what’s more cruel? Industrialized agriculture? The poultry, pork and beef industry? Who draws the line?” said Terry Audla, president of the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, which represents about 55,000 people.”