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Image: IFF
San Francisco’s city-wide ban on the sale of new fur products went into effect on January 1. Now, just two weeks later, the prohibition – which makes San Francisco the largest city in the United States to ban fur sales – is facing its first legal challenge. In a newly-filed lawsuit, a prominent trade group is taking on the ban, arguing that it is not only “so arbitrary as to be ridiculous,” it violates the United States Constitution.

According to a complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California on Monday, the International Fur Federation (“IFF”) claims that the City and County of San Francisco, and Dr. Grant Colfax, who is the Director of the San Francisco Department of Public Health, are on the hook for by enacting an “arbitrary” and “ridiculous” bill that is “not about the health or safety of any human beings in San Francisco” and similarly not about protecting or advancing “the welfare of any animals in San Francisco.”

Instead, the sweeping limits on the sale of new fur products (with a few exceptions, such as those for the sale of cowhide, deerskin, sheepskin and goatskin, and fur products used for tribal or religious reasons, for instance) that are put in place by the newly-implemented ban – which takes the form of an amendment to the San Francisco Health Code – merely serve to “interfere with interstate and foreign commerce,” and thereby, “violates the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution,” argues the United Kingdom-based IFF.

To be exact, the organization, which says that it represents 56 members associations in over 40 countries around the world, claims that the ban “completely” prohibits the sale of new fur products within the city without having “a proper legislative interest” or “any legitimate local purpose” – as required by law. The need for a “legitimate local purpose” in connection with the ban is significant, as the validity of state laws in connection with the Commerce Clause is tested by considering whether the law regulates commerce “evenhandedly to effectuate a legitimate local public interest,” and whether “its effects on interstate commerce are only incidental.”

The IFF argues that the ban lacks a legitimate local purpose because the ban “applies to fur products from animals raised or trapped entirely in other states and countries,” since “not a single animal is raised for its fur, nor is any animal trapped for the purpose of selling its fur” within the limits of the city of San Francisco. “While preventing what a local government may perceive as cruelty to animals has been recognized as a legitimate government interest, that purpose is — by definition — not ‘local’ when it comes to the welfare of animals in other cities, states, and countries.”

With that in mind, the IFF asserts that while “improving the welfare of fur animals in Wisconsin or Denmark, for example, is certainly a legitimate local purpose of the people and their governments in Wisconsin or Denmark, it is not one as to which San Francisco — which does not even have any fur farming or commercial trapping operations within its own jurisdiction — can legislate.”

In enacting the ban, the complaint states that San Francisco has “placed a dam in the stream of interstate and foreign commerce of tens of millions of dollars of products that do not threaten the health, safety, or welfare of a single resident — human or animal — of San Francisco,” which is something that it “may not do under the Supreme Court’s Dormant Commerce Clause jurisprudence. (The Dormant Commerce Clause limits states’ and cities’ authority to enact laws that discriminate against or excessively burden interstate commerce.)

The ban further runs afoul of the law, according to the IFF, because even if it “regulated even-handedly to effectuate a legitimate local public interest, and its effects on interstate commerce were only incidental,” it would be deemed constitution unless “the burden imposed on such commerce was not clearly excessive in relation to the putative local benefits.” Here, the IFF claims that “San Francisco’s Fur Ban imposes a substantial burden on interstate commerce,” and “apart from virtue-signaling, the Fur Ban does not achieve any ‘putative local benefits.’”

As a result, the IFF says that it is seeking “a judicial declaration [of invalidity of the bill] and a permanent injunction against the enforcement of the Fur Ban on the grounds that it is unconstitutional.”

*The case is International Fur Trade Federation v. City and County of San Francisco et al., 3:20-cv-00242 (N.D.Cal.)