Chambliss blocks regulatory pick over animal lawsuits

Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) has blocked President Obama’s candidate for regulation czar, Harvard law professor Cass Sunstein, because Sunstein has argued that animals should have the right to sue humans in court.
Obama has picked Sunstein, his adviser and longtime friend, to head the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, an office that has power to review and assess all draft regulations proposed within the administration.
But Chambliss worries that Sunstein’s innovative legal views may someday lead to a farmer having to defend himself in court against a lawsuit filed on behalf of his chickens or pigs.
Chambliss told The Hill that he has blocked Sunstein’s nomination because the law professor “has said that animals ought to have the right to sue folks.”
Indeed, in his 2004 book, Animal Rights: Current Debates and New Directions, Sunstein wrote: “I will suggest that animals should be permitted to bring suit, with human beings as their representatives, to prevent violations of current law.”
More specifically, he wrote: “Laws designed to protect animals against cruelty and abuse should be amended or interpreted to give a private cause of action against those who violate them, so as to allow private people to supplement the efforts of public prosecutors.”
Chambliss said he is also concerned about Sunstein’s potential impact on “a number of other issues relative to agriculture.”
A White House spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.
Sunstein’s nomination cleared the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee with ease in May. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) cast the only vote against him.
But various farming and ranching interests, including the American Farm Bureau Federation, have raised concerns about Sunstein. Several have contacted Republican farm-state senators to raise concern over Sunstein’s academic writings.
In a 2002 paper, "The Rights of Animals: A Very Short Primer," Sunstein wrote: “On reflection, the spotlight should be placed squarely on the issue of suffering and well-being.”
He went on to state that this position “strongly suggests” that “there should be extensive regulation of the use of animals in entertainment, in scientific experiments, and in agriculture.”
Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), a member of the Agriculture Committee, met with Sunstein earlier this month and said that Sunstein had provided assurance that he would not promote onerous regulations for farmers.
Chambliss said he would not lift his hold until he had a chance to ask Sunstein to explain his views in a meeting after the July 4 recess.
"I'm going to talk to him," Chambliss said. "He has not had the opportunity to look me in the eye."
An aide to Chambliss said the senator is also concerned by Sunstein’s suggestion during a 2007 speech that hunting should be banned.
As head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, a branch of the Office of Management and Budget, Sunstein would have sweeping authority over new Obama administration regulations.
Sunstein served as an adviser to Obama’s presidential campaign. He and Obama became friends while both teaching at the University of Chicago Law School.
Sunstein was considered a possible candidate to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice David Souter.
In addition to farming interests, conservative groups have targeted Sunstein because of his writings. The American Conservative Union has created a website devoted to opposing his nomination.