What The Eighth Amendment Reveals

Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

That’s the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution, typically discussed in the context of whether the death penalty violates it. The Eighth is also invoked with regards to pre-trial treatment of those accused of committing crimes. Solitary confinement, for example, is often argued by defense attorneys to be a violation of the “cruel and unusual punishments” clause. Which is to say that the Eighth Amendment applies to those convicted of crimes or accused of committing a crime.

What does this have to do with animals?

The Constitution was written by and for (white) men. The blind spots of the founding fathers are all too clear to us now — they didn’t permit women to vote, for example, and somehow didn’t see the problem with slavery — and we’ve fortunately progressed enough that, at least on paper, everyone has equal rights.

Every human, at least. Animals have not entered the picture, and that doesn’t seem likely to change in the foreseeable future. Although there are moves to grant rights to other primates, they haven’t been successful thus far.

Read the Eighth Amendment again. Poor treatment of those convicted or accused of crimes is forbidden — as it should be — yet innocent animals such as cows, pigs, chickens and fish are subjected to excruciating treatment as a matter of course.

You can’t beat an inmate who confesses to having served as a guard in Auschwitz, yet forcing a pig to endure agonizing conditions — a crate so small she cannot turn around, feces covering the floor, tail docking sans anesthesia, and finally an early death — is a prerequisite for breakfast. And many of those who enjoy eating bacon for breakfast refer to themselves as “animal lovers.”

Something isn’t right with that picture; someday, hopefully soon, we’ll acknowledge this hypocrisy and stop overlooking animal rights as we have for women and people of color.

 

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