Tuesday, February 26, 2008
United States Supreme Court Leaves Intact Ohio Supreme Court’s Ruling that Breed-Specific Legislation is ConstitutionalFor years, the pit bull lobby has claimed that breed-specific legislation (also known as BSL) is unconstitutional -- but now the Supreme Court of Ohio has joined courts in Washington, Colorado, New Mexico, Florida, Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Utah, Wisconsin, and Kentucky in ruling that BSL is, indeed, constitutional when properly written. On February 19, 2008 the United States Supreme Court handed the pit bull lobby another defeat when it refused to hear their appeal from the Ohio Supreme Court’s decision in City of Toledo v. Tellings, 871 N.E.2d 1152 (Ohio, August 1, 2007).
The high court’s order simply stated: “The motion of American Rottweiler Club, Inc. for leave to file a brief as amicus curiae is granted. The petition for a writ of certiorari is denied.” Tellings v. Toledo, Ohio, No. 07-8545.Basically, the high court said -- no, we’re not going to hear the pit bull lobby’s appeal, but if we had heard it, the ARC could have filed a friend-of-the-court brief. The U.S. Supreme Court’s rejection of the appeal, viewable here, makes the Ohio Supreme Court’s decision final. There is no further appeal.
The Tellings case arose from Toledo’s pit bull ordinance, which limits every person to owning no more than one pit bull and requires that pit bulls be muzzled when they are off their owners’ property. Pit bull advocates had argued that the law was unconstitutional on several grounds, all of which the Ohio Supreme Court rejected:
- Procedural due process: Procedural due process means that when a government agency is going to deprive people of a property or liberty interest, it must give them notice and an opportunity to be heard. The Ohio Supreme Court found that the text of the law itself gives sufficient notice, because it subjects all pit bulls to the ownership and restraint requirements. Paul Tellings had notice of what he had to do, and he had the opportunity to be heard when he defended himself against the criminal charges that were brought when he violated the law.
- Substantive due process: Substantive due process means that when a legislature is making a law, there’s a constitutional limit to the controls it can place on the citizenry. To be constitutional, a law governing dogs only has to be “rationally related to a legitimate government interest.” The Ohio Supreme Court found that the City had a legitimate goal of protecting humans from dog attacks, and that special regulation of pit bulls is rationally related to that goal because pit bulls, compared to other breeds, “cause a disproportionate amount of danger to people.”
- Equal protection of the laws: Equal protection of the laws means that the government can’t apply the law unequally to different people; it also means that a legislature can’t single out a group of people for unfair disadvantage. However, that doesn’t mean that the law can’t make distinctions between people – all laws do that. If the law doesn’t single out a “suspect class” (such as groups based on sex, age, race, religion, or ethnic background), it doesn’t violate equal protection if it’s rationally related to a legitimate government interest. Pit bull advocates claimed that the law violated equal protection because not all pit bulls are vicious, and other breeds also bite. The Ohio Supreme Court disagreed – just like on the substantive due process question, the special classification of pit bulls has a rational relationship to the law’s goal, and so doesn’t deny equal protection.
- Void for vagueness: To satisfy due process, a law must clearly tell people which acts are allowed and which are prohibited; a law that is too vague is called “void for vagueness.” Pit bull advocates claimed that it was too difficult to tell which dogs were pit bulls and which were not. The Ohio Supreme Court rejected this argument, finding that the term “pit bull” can be understood from physical and behavioral traits combined with “the commonly available knowledge of dog breeds typically acquired by potential dog owners or otherwise possessed by veterinarians or breeders” which would be “sufficient to inform a dog owner as to whether he owns a dog commonly known as a pit bull dog.” Tellings, 871 N.E.2d at 284, quoting State v. Anderson, 566 N.E.2d 1224 (Ohio, 1991).
The truth is that although the pit bull lobby loves to say that breed-specific legislation is unnecessary, and that it is irresponsible owners who cause the trouble, we don’t hear any ideas from them as to how to actually draft a law that effectively targets bad pit bull owners and prevents the horrific injuries that these dogs can inflict. For all the energy and money that the pit bull lobby puts into litigating BSL all over the country, one would think that they could put their heads together and come up with some bright ideas. Until they do, those of us back in the real world will probably continue to rely on breed-specific legislation, even if it does inconvenience good pit bull owners.
US Supreme Court Denial: Tellings v. Toledo, Ohio, No. 07-8545
| 2/26/2008 5:03 PM |
Of course the Court didn't hear it...They ruled 110 years ago that states may regulate dogs as property for public safety purposes as a valid police power.
That didn't stop the charletans at the top of the pro-mauling lobby from collecting legal donations though!
| 2/26/2008 5:19 PM |
You know this, I know this, now we have to ensure that all other folks are informed about it too. The pit nutters would have common folk believe that breed specific laws are unconstitutional!
| 2/26/2008 7:07 PM |
Does any one have an idea why there is very little problem with these dogs in states like, Montana, Idaho, North and South Dakota, Wyoming? Five states with very little or no problem.
| 2/27/2008 2:59 PM |
The pro-pit community is very well organized online, and they are making an attempt to lobby the Ohio State Legislature to change their state law; I don't know what affect that would have on Toledo's municipal ordinance. Beware - the pro-pit groups try to get the State legislator's bamboolzed with misleading information and get them to pass a state law banning BSL. We had that in Colorado and Denver fought that attempt under the concept of "home rule" authority. The states like Montana, Wyoming,etc. have never really been a hotbed for dog fighting for many reasons. The sparse population, etc. may also be a factor. Maybe the best reason is that the macho men up in the rugged Rocky Mountain region don't need placebos like dogs to demonstrate our manhood; we climb 14,000 foot mountains in the morning and ski down them for lunch. Dogs may be used for pulling sleds or Avalanche rescues, and as such dogs are our friends and companions during long outings in the rugged outdoors, the idea of fighting them is just beyond our rational comprehension. (Ever see the movie "8 below"?)
| 2/27/2008 10:23 PM |
Thank you for that explanation. I talked to an outdoorsman friend of mine. He said about the same thing. One thing was they make a different use of the dog and pit bulls don't fill the bill. He also didn't think they were that good in the cold weather. I see these people walking there pit bulls off leash all the time. I guess they think it make them look tough. I think it makes them look nuts.
I have a Black Lab and he is not very tough but he behaves well and he is a good dog. That is plenty good enuogh for me. My dog " Fox" had a cat of his own and he really loved that cat. They were together from the time he was about four months old. He is now 10 years old. In October a pit bull and a boxer from down the street killed the cat. "KC" was the cats name.