Can a wild-captured orca whale be considered a "slave" under the guidelines of the U.S. Constitution, or be named as a plaintiff in a lawsuit arguing as much?
Evidently it can. In fact, five of them can — U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Miller is considering their case.
According to the BBC, SeaWorld has become involved in a legal battle with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) over the "enslaved" status of five of their killer whales:
Peta says the killer whales are treated like slaves for being forced to live in tanks and perform daily at the SeaWorld parks in California and Florida.
It is not considered likely that the whales will win their freedom, but campaigners said they were pleased the case even made it to a courtroom.
The lawsuit invokes the 13th Amendment to the constitution, which abolished "slavery or involuntary servitude" in the US.
PETA's attorney, Jeffrey Kerr, has described the case as "the next frontier of civil rights," but so far, Judge Miller doesn't sound very convinced.
According to the L.A. Times, Miller explained to Kerr that the orcas were animals, not people, and "[rejected] PETA's argument that SeaWorld is being 'hysterical' in suggesting that allowing PETA's lawsuit to continue would lead to more lawsuits on behalf of other animals, including dogs used by the military and police departments."
"Call me hysterical," Judge Miller said, "but that's one of the first places I went in my thinking about this case." Miller says he will study SeaWorld's request to have the lawsuit thrown out, and will issue his ruling at an undisclosed later date.