Mr. Dead

This Seventh Circuit case is about horses. It is not pretty; in fact, it’s kinda dark.

Judge Posner, writing for the majority, begins, “Cavel International, the principal appellant (we can ignore the others), produces horsemeat for human consumption. The plant at which it slaughters the horses is in Illinois. Americans do not eat horsemeat, but it is considered a delicacy in Europe and Cavel exports its entire output. Its suit challenges the constitutionality of a recent amendment to the Illinois Horse Meat Act … that makes it unlawful for any person in the state to slaughter a horse for human consumption or ‘to import into or export from this State, or to sell, buy, give away, hold, or accept any horse meat if that person knows or should know that the horse meat will be used for human consumption.’”

From there it’s “Injunction Pending Appeal 101″ and, as only a master wordsmith can, Posner writes beautifully about an ugly topic, dispensing logic like a delicacy along the way:

The state does not question the gravity of Cavel’s situation (despite the remark about the fire) but responds that the state will incur irreparable harm, too, if the injunction is granted, because a“slaughter cannot be undone.” But the statute does not seem to be intended to protect horses. (The object of the statute is totally obscure.) For it is only when horsemeat is intended for human consumption—the niche market that Cavel serves(less that 1 percent of its output is sold for other consumption)—that a horse cannot be killed for its meat. Were Cavelor a successor able to find a market in pet-food companies, the slaughter of horses at its plant would continue without interference from the state. And, if not, all that will happen is that horses will be slaughtered elsewhere to meet the demands of the European gourmets.

The majority then granted a stay pending appeal. Judge Easterbrook dissented:

No state of which I am aware—and no federal law or serious student of the subject—has advocated the rule: “Laws that impose losses large enough to prompt people to hire lawyers take effect only at the conclusion of federal judicial review.” Such a rule not only denies states part of their legislative power but also leads to strategic behavior: people hire lawyers and file suits not because they expect to win,but just because they can benefit from delay. That’s a fair characterization of this suit. Just as the state won’t compensate Cavel for losses in the interim if Cavel wins in theend, Cavel does not propose to compensate Illinois for any injury caused by delayed effectiveness of the statute. The majority does not require Cavel to post an injunction bond. Requiring an applicant to back its position with a promise to pay would curtail strategic claims.

Federal courts should allow states to select and enforce effective dates for their statutes. Equitable relief is appropriate only when the plaintiff shows a substantial likelihood of winning. Cavel has not met this standard and is not entitled to an injunction pending appeal.

Watching as legal giants jockey for position is pure sport. Pressing sweeping notions of federalism against meticulous “rules” of judicial procedure, the court almost — but not quite — lets you forget what this case is about: horse meat.

In my American, boyhood mind, horses aren’t to be eaten by humans. I understand that my dine-equine hang-up is, at least partly, cultural. Take cows, for instance. When media would have them twist in tornadoes, or pump chicken-sandwich sales to save their delicious hides, I laugh and say, “How clever.” I’m growing. For now I’ll retain my hypocritical ways.

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