In all its glorious majesty of ever-expanding governmental authority, the Obama Administration has now taken jurisdiction over the world famous six-toed cats that live at the Ernest Hemingway Museum in Key West.
For those who thought that the expansive reach of the Commerce Clause of the Constitution had been slowed down by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision upholding Obamacare only on tax grounds, think again.
The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals has now sided with the Obama Administration that the Commerce Clause authorizes the U.S. Department of Agriculture to regulate the museum’s cats.
The cats are the descendants of the six-toed (“polydactyl”) felines kept by the late author Ernest Hemingway. He moved into the Spanish Colonial mansion in 1931 and wrote the novel “To Have and Have Not” there. The Hemingway house has been a museum popular for tourist tours and weddings since 1964.
The museum remains the domain of 40 to 50 free range cats. In 1935 Hemingway was given a white six-toed female cat named Snowball by a friend, and many of the cats who live on the museum grounds (not all have six toes) are Snowball’s descendants.
As in Hemingway’s time, the cats are allowed to roam on the museum’s one-acre grounds, which are enclosed by a brick fence at the property’s perimeter.
A veterinarian has long visited the museum once a week for routine procedures such as ear mite treatment, flea spraying, worming, and annual vaccinations.
Between 225,000 and 275,000 visitors from around the world come to the museum each year to tour the house where Hemingway lived and worked from 1931 to 1938 – and to pet the cats.
However, in 2003 a complaint was lodged with the Agriculture Department by someone who alleged that the cats were not being properly cared for.
Government inspectors determined that if the museum wanted to keep the cats “on display” it needed to obtain a license under the federal Animal Welfare Act, keep the cats in individual cages each night, tag each cat for identification, and build elevated resting surfaces for the cats.
In 2009 the museum sued to challenge the federal government’s assertion of jurisdiction over its cats under the Commerce Clause. However, U.S. District Judge Jose E. Martinez of Miami ruled in favor of the government last year, and the museum appealed.
On December 7, the Eleventh Circuit also ruled in favor of the federal government’s authority to regulate the museum as an “animal exhibitor” under the federal Animal Welfare Act.
“The museum invites and receives thousands of admission-paying visitors from beyond Florida,” wrote Chief Judge Fredrick Dubina. “The exhibition of the Hemingway cats is integral to the museum’s commercial purpose, and thus, their exhibition affects interstate commerce.”
I, for one, will tell my cats that -- at least for now -- they remain under my private jurisdiction and care. I shall not display or exhibit them to the public. Not even for free.
Angel Castillo, Jr., a former reporter and editor for the New York Times and The Miami Herald, practices employment law in Miami. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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