Supreme Court Horse Slaughter Decision: What Does This Mean?

The Supreme Court of the United States on June 16 denied certiorari in Cavel International, Inc. v. Madigan (No. 07-962), leaving in place a decision by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals upholding a ban on slaughter of horses for human consumption in Illinois. In May 2007, the Illinois Horse Meat Act was amended to make it illegal for anyone in the state to slaughter horses for human consumption or to import or export horse meat destined for human consumption. Cavel International, which operated a horse slaughter facility in DeKalb, Ill., challenged the new law but lost in federal district court and in the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.

Cavel next sought review by the Supreme Court through a request called a Petition for a Writ of Certiorari. Cavel argued that the Illinois law violated the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution, which prohibits individual states from enacting laws that burden interstate or foreign commerce, and that there was no legitimate justification for the slaughter ban.

Supreme Court review of a lower court decision is far from automatic, and a writ of certiorari is seldom granted. On June 16, for example, when the Court announced that Cavel's request for review had been denied, only three petitions were granted. A total of 109 petitions--97%--were denied that day.

Denial of certiorari means that the lower court decision becomes the controlling legal authority. It does not mean that the Supreme Court agrees with the lower court's ruling on horse slaughter, however, nor does it necessarily prohibit horse slaughter for human consumption in other states or prevent legal challenges to laws similar to the one in Illinois. The Supreme Court previously declined to review a ruling from the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upholding a ban on horse slaughter for human consumption in Texas.

About the Author

Milt Toby, JD

Milt Toby is an author and attorney who has been writing about horses and legal issues affecting the equine industry for more than 40 years. Former Chair of the Kentucky Bar Association's Equine Law Section, Milt has written eight nonfiction books, including national award winners Dancer’s Image and Noor. He teaches Equine Commercial Law in the University of Louisville's Equine Industry Program.

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