PETA Pushes Back After Trailblazing Lawsuit Dismissed on a Technicality

For Immediate Release:
February 2, 2022

Tasgola Bruner 202-483-7382


PETA’s campaign against deadly brain experiments at Johns Hopkins University (JHU) and its efforts to represent animals in court will continue despite a Washington, D.C., federal court’s dismissal yesterday of PETA’s first-of-its-kind lawsuit for “lack of standing.” The court dismissed the constitutional lawsuit, not on its merits but on technical grounds, deciding that nonhuman animals are not considered “persons” and opining that PETA and others therefore do not have “next friend” standing—a decision that PETA says appeases trade groups that benefit from the exploitation of animals but is out of touch with current knowledge of who other animals are.

“This battle, like all campaigns for civil rights over the years, will continue to be fought until our legal system recognizes that owls and other animals are sentient beings and not inanimate objects for humans to dominate and exploit,” says PETA Foundation Director of Litigation Asher Smith. “PETA will push hard until these extraordinarily cruel experiments at Johns Hopkins are stopped and animals are recognized and respected as legal ‘persons’ who have an interest in living free from harm.”

As a “next friend” to 30 barn owls being used in the JHU experiments, PETA had filed the lawsuit alleging that the law allowing taxpayer-funded tests, conducted in a laboratory at JHU, are an unconstitutional death sentence for these animals and seeking protection from harm for the birds under the federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA).

PETA’s lawsuit took aim at the 2002 Helms Amendment to the AWA, which was drafted by notorious civil rights and animal rights opponent Sen. Jesse Helms. It excludes tens of millions of birds, rats, and mice used in experiments from the same minimal protections afforded to other species under the AWA, which PETA argued violates the U.S. Constitution’s provision explicitly prohibiting congressionally imposed death sentences via the Bill of Attainder Clause.

Because of the Helms Amendment, student experimenters—whose trial and error during invasive procedures on the owls is part of the “learning process”—will operate on the birds without having to adhere to any of the protections guaranteed by the AWA. The experimenters will also cut into the skulls of barn owls, insert electrodes into their brains, force them to look at screens for hours a day, and bombard them with noises and lights. When their brains have been damaged beyond use, they’ll be killed.

PETA—whose motto reads, in part, that “animals are not ours to experiment on”—opposes speciesism, a human-supremacist worldview. For more information on PETA’s investigative newsgathering and reporting, please visit or follow the group on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.

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