A US federal judge may rule on whether animals enjoy the constitutional protections against slavery as human beings.
The case — to test the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution, which prohibits slavery — arises from a move by Sea World to dismiss a lawsuit filed by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) that names five orcas (killer whales) as plaintiffs, CNN reported.
Three marine-mammal experts and two former orca (killer whale) trainers have joined PETA in claiming that the captured orcas are treated like slaves, forced to live in tanks and perform daily at Sea World parks in San Diego and Orlando, Florida.
The Associated Press quoted PETA attorney Jeffrey Kerr, representing the five orcas, as saying: "This case is on the next frontier of civil rights."
The orcas case - the first-ever seeking to apply the 13th Amendment to nonhuman animals – named Corky, Kasatka, Ulises, Tilikum and Katina.
However, Sea World attorney Theodore Shaw said the lawsuit "went against 125 years of case law applied to the Constitution's 13th amendment that prohibits slavery between humans."
"With all due respect, the court does not have the authority to even consider this question," the AP quoted Shaw as saying.
"Neither orcas nor any other animal were included in the 'We the people' ... when the Constitution was adopted," he added.
US District Judge Jeffrey Miller has announced that he will take the case under advisement and issue his ruling at a later date.
According to the AP:
"The judge raised doubts a court can allow animals to be plaintiffs in a lawsuit, and he questioned how far the implications of a favorable ruling could reach, pointing out the military's use of dolphins and scientists' experiments on whales in the wild."
An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the case was testing the 23th amendment, not the 13th.