Mercy For Animals General Counsel Vandhana Bala Describes Animal Welfare and the Power of Undercover Investigations

Vandhana Bala’s talk at HLS on April 6 provided a first hand perspective of some of the Animal Welfare Movement’s biggest hurdles and greatest successes, particularly as they relate to farmed animals. As stated on its website, Mercy For Animals “is an international non profit organization dedicated to preventing cruelty to farmed animals and promoting compassion food choices and policies…”

MFA has conducted over 40 undercover investigations in efforts to shine light on the agricultural industry and the secrets it keeps from consumers with respect to its treatment of animals. Ms. Bala made clear that MFA operates on the premise that the public has the right to know and ought to know what’s going on behind closed doors. Such investigations have cohesively revealed that standard working conditions on farms include grinding up live male chicks (as only the females are useful to the egg industry), throwing male chicks into trash bags, leaving them to die,, burning off beaks, castrating piglets, cutting off tails of cows, among numerous other equally barbaric practices. Luckily, consumers themselves are demanding greater transparency, which makes investigative footage all the more valuable, as consumers today are willing to watch and listen. The investigations have helped enforce existing animal protection laws, although such laws are few. There are even fewer that protect farmed animals, and a majority of U.S. states have common farming exemptions within animal protection laws, making the above practices entirely legal. Further, if the exemptions aren’t explicitly stated, prosecutors are prone to reading them into the law. It is for this reason that animal cruelty suits are only brought for the most “malicious, sadistic acts of cruelty.”

With respect to the enactment of new laws, investigative footage was instrumental to the advocacy for a ban on cruel confinement in Ohio and in California, MFA released two investigations of egg factory farms before their proposition on cruel confinement was passed. Investigative footage has also led to significant corporate policy changes, resulting in to the improvement of billions of animal lives. Nestle and Wal-Mart have both been investigated and relevant footage led to improved Animal Welfare policies by both; Nestlé’s improved policies proved internationally expansive, as they affected their supply in 90 countries. These investigations are reported on by some of the biggest media outlets globally, and surveys have confirmed that the public does want humane treatment of farmed animals regardless of whether the animals are ultimately slaughtered for consumption. Ms. Bala specifically cited a study done by Kansas State University in which it was shown that every time an investigation was released to the public, the demand for animal products would go down, regardless of the subject matter-i.e. an investigation on broiler chickens could reduce the demand for pork, beef or dairy products.[1]

The Agro industry, however, is fighting back through “Ag-gag” legislation. Ag-gag laws are enacted to prevent investigators from successfully documenting the conditions on factory farms by making such documenting illegal. The American Legislative Exchange Council reportedly “masterminded” the idea of Ag-gag; this council has “prepared sample legislation to protect corporate interests” and have been behind such laws as the Stand Your Ground gun laws and Voter ID laws. Ag-gag laws are typified by whether they 1. ban falsifying any portion of a job application (the application will ask the job candidate if he/she has affiliations with Animal Protection organizations), 2. ban the use of any photography/video on such facilities or 3. require that any documentation of cruelty to farmed animals be immediately provided to law enforcement. The third type is cleverly framed as a way to promote prompt reporting of such cruelties.

The genius/evil of Ag-gag is that “instead of doing something affirmatively to improve conditions” its goal is to simply make awareness of any deplorable conditions inaccessible to the public. Ag-gag is a “slap in the face of transparency,” and “infringe[s] upon our right to know something about an issue as important as the food that we’re eating.” Legislators are, however, aware that Ag-gag laws are incredibly unpopular with the public, and those in favor of Ag-gag will ensure that passage of such laws are as speedy as possible or will sneak them into animal protection legislation, so as to avoid media and public outrage. Although the public is evidently against Ag-gag, Ag-gag’s success is due to the enormous influence of powerful and well-endowed lobbyists of the agricultural industry on certain corrupt legislators. In Iowa, the first state to pass Ag-gag laws, it was revealed that the agricultural industry had provided hefty campaign contributions for the elections of officials who went on to enact Ag-gag laws.

Ms. Bala provided a sense of hope, however, by proposing that Ag-gag is evidence of the agricultural industry’s growing need to fight Animal Welfare groups. While in the past Animal Welfare, as a concept, has been scoffed at by Agro-businesses, it is more recently, and particularly with the growing use of undercover investigations, that the agricultural industry is beginning to realize the impact Animal Welfare groups are having with the public. Ms. Bala went on to encourage the audience, and the public at large, to withdraw financial support from such industries, by cutting back or cutting out meat from our diets and to spread awareness of factory farming practices through social media and word of mouth. Also critical, said Ms. Bala, was the need for writing to legislators about these issues and questioning political candidates about their views on these issues. Ultimately, “there’s work we can all do.”


Dean Minow Encourages Students to Create a “Community of Respect”

The following letter was emailed to students by Dean Minow on May 3, 2016:

Dear students,

As the term ends, I write to express my best wishes for a productive and successful finish after a year of many accomplishments, challenges, and important discussions — and for all that is yet to come.

The idealism and concern demonstrated by so many this year point toward ways to build stronger communities here and elsewhere. I commend the creative and generous efforts by so many in clinics, journals, and student organizations, and the compassion and care that you have shown for each other during some difficult moments. These gifts of personal generosity and community are vitally important, especially when constructive dialogue has sometimes been overshadowed by expressions of prejudice, misguided fears and other emotions. Continue reading “Dean Minow Encourages Students to Create a “Community of Respect””

Notes Posted on Professor Portraits in Wasserstein Hall

At 5:15 p.m. today, a person posted red and yellow notes on several professors’ portraits located on the first floor of Wasserstein. Yellow tags were placed on male professors’ pictures, reading “Right to Impregnate” or “No Right to be Pregnant.” Red tags were placed on female professors’ pictures and said “Right to be Pregnant.” Justice Elena Kagan’s portrait had a second tag that read, “No right to impregnate.” The notes were removed around 6:40 p.m.

It is unclear whether the individual who posted the notes is affiliated with HLS.


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Breaking: Recording Device Allegedly Found in the Lounge

Reclaim Harvard Law School occupiers have found a recording device that they suspect of surveilling their ongoing occupation.

The voice-activated Sony machine was uncovered in the lounge, which Reclaimers call Belinda Hall, early Tuesday. It was adhered by Velcro under one of the tables. Reclaimers worry that it was used to spy on students for multiple days.

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Federal Housing Agency Head Shouted Down By Protestors

Last Monday afternoon, protestors shouted down Melvin Watt, director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, from an event hosted at Harvard Law School.

As Watt began to speak, the protestors stood up and began to complain loudly of malfeasance from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which the FHFA oversees. With chants of “Mel Watt you can’t hide, we can see your greedy side,” the protestors drove Watt and Professor Hal Scott, who introduced Watt, from the room. The protestors were affiliated with City Life/Vida Urbana, a non-profit that HLS supports through the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau and Project No One Leaves.

While protestors filled much of the room, there were only a few students at the event, which was sponsored by the Program on International Financial Systems and Fidelity Investments.

However, some of the students who were there were impressed by what they saw.

“I thought it was really cool,” said 2L Joshua Friedmann. “We don’t get the chance to see really organic community organizing. We’re pretty used to our walls being closed off.”

Dean Martha Minow Reaffirms Harvard Law’s Commitment to Free Expression in a Letter to the Community

On April 1, Dean Martha Minow sent the email below to the entire law school community, reaffirming Harvard’s commitment to free expression and freedom of conscience. Earlier this week, students from Reclaim Harvard Law repeatedly removed critical signs posted in “Belinda Hall.”

Dear members of the Law School community:

As our community has focused on questions of race and inclusion, which we regard as issues of pressing importance to the nation and our community, the Law School has respected the extraordinary use of the WCC lounge as a space for protest and discussion. When a shared space is made open for such a purpose, even temporarily, the values of free exchange that define an academic community require that every member of the community has the right to use that shared space to express views, to express differences, to engage in debate. That freedom to disagree makes us stronger and better. It is essential to the integrity and success of an academic communityand especially to members and future members of the legal communitythat we operate on the bedrock foundations of openness and free debate. Continue reading “Dean Martha Minow Reaffirms Harvard Law’s Commitment to Free Expression in a Letter to the Community”

Give Your Harvard Degree A Smoochy, Says Gucci Scaramucci

If I invited you to meet a Harvard Law alumnus who founded and co-manages a global investment firm with $12.6 billion in assets, a man who formerly held executive positions with Goldman Sachs and Lehman Brothers, the host of Fox Business’s Wall Street Week and a regular contributor on Fox News and CNBC, a man who received a cameo in Oliver Stone’s Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps and a nickname from President George W. Bush, you would probably expect to get a certain sort of advice.

And you would be dead wrong.

Continue reading “Give Your Harvard Degree A Smoochy, Says Gucci Scaramucci”

Harvard Law Campus Erupts in Spontaneous Expressions of Love & Understanding

Reports incoming that HLS students of all political ideologies are coming together in kindness and love today, really trying to empathize with one another and to understand different points of view. FedSoc members have admitted that “maybe that Obama guy isn’t so bad after all,” while Bill Barlow ’16 was spotted in Belinda Hall giving hugs of kind understanding to all. HLS Dems, embroiled in a brutal civil war over whether to support Bernie or Hillary, have called a temporary ceasefire. Keep your eye on the Record for developments to this heartwarming story.

Reclaim Harvard Law Removes Critical Posters, Stirring Debate Over Academic Freedom

3L Bill Barlow puts up posters accusing Reclaim HLS of denying speech to students. Reclaim HLS later took down the posters.

For the last several weeks, the walls of the protestor-occupied “Belinda Hall” have been covered with messages from Reclaim HLS, a coalition of students seeking institutional change at the Law School. But on Monday, there was a new message—one equating the movement with Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump, claiming that both Trump and Reclaim are anti-free speech.

The signs were posted by third-year student Bill Barlow, who has been a vocal opponent of perceived censorship by Reclaim HLS. Barlow believes some of the protestors’ demands impinge on academic freedom and stifle dissent—a conviction this incident reaffirmed for him.

Shortly after Barlow taped up his signs, he sat down to discuss his message with protestors—a conversation he referred to as “tense but civil.” Later that afternoon, members from Reclaim HLS removed Barlow’s critical posters. And shortly thereafter, Barlow received an email from the Dean of Students Office requesting an informational meeting with Dean of Students Marcia Sells.

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Harvard to Retire HLS Shield

After several months of protests and the formation of a committee to study the Harvard Law School shield, Harvard Corporation has decided to retire the current shield representing the Law School. Harvard Corporation, which along with the Board of Overseers governs Harvard University, has requested that the Law School propose a new shield, “ideally in time for it to be introduced for the School’s bicentennial in 2017.”

The letter from Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust and Senior Fellow William Lee accepting the change and the email from Harvard Law School Dean Martha Minow announcing the decision are after the jump.

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In Winning Rights for Animals, Approaches Differ

For animals, the current outlook may appear bleak: animals undergo abhorrent levels of suffering, especially on the farm and in laboratories, and help has not come from our legal system.  Laws that grant animals greater protections must overcome disinterested legislatures and the powerful and wealthy animal agriculture and pharmaceutical lobbies.  As a result, animals are subject to almost no protections.

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After Months of Advocacy and Debate, Harvard Law Recommends Shield Change

As you’ve likely heard by now, Harvard Law School has recommended changing its shield. This decision comes after months of advocacy and debate. Most recently, a Record-conducted poll found that more than fifty percent of students support changing the shield.

You may read Dean Minow’s transmittal letter here:

You may read the committee’s report and recommendation here:

You may read a dissenting opinion by Professor Gordon-Reed (a member of the shield committee) here:


Harvard Law School Reacts to the Passing of Justice Scalia

On Wednesday, February 24, Harvard Law School hosted a panel featuring Dean Martha Minow and Professors Frank Michelman, Larry Lessig, Richard Lazarus, Adrian Vermuele, John Manning, Cass Sunstein, and Charles Fried. They represent a wide range of political ideologies and legal interests. But there is one thing they all share: a deep respect for Justice Scalia’s contributions to the legal community.

Each of the panelists had a connection to the Justice—some worked for him, others argued before him, and the moderator, Professor Michelman, shared an office at the Harvard Law Review’s Gannett House during their law school careers.

Justice Scalia will perhaps be most remembered for his influential approach to interpreting the law, popularizing originalism and textualism. Professor Sunstein called him the most brilliant administrative lawyer to ever serve on the Court, and alongside Justices Holmes and Jackson, one of the greatest writers, too. Professor Fried remarked that generations to come will encounter his legacy through his memorable and thoughtful opinions.

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Reclaim HLS Activists Occupy Student Lounge

Reclaim HLS protesters hold a discussion over dinner. The protesters have continuously occupied the Wasserstein Lounge since last Monday.
Reclaim HLS protesters hold a discussion over dinner. The protesters have continuously occupied the Wasserstein Lounge since last Monday.

After a quiet winter term, student activism is back in the air at Harvard Law School.

Since February 15, dozens of students have staged an indefinite occupation of the Wasserstein Lounge in a protest against what they see as an unjust institution and an opaque administration. Representing Reclaim Harvard Law School, the protestors have stayed day and night, bringing in air mattresses and sheets to help them weather the evenings. In a move to bring about the administrative transparency they’ve demanded, they’ve also released a confidential email from Dean Martha Minow with the list of faculty committee assignments.

“We’re here to bring visibility to Reclaim Harvard Law School,” said 3L Annaleigh Curtis. “But we’re also here to create the spaces we’re asking the administration to create.”

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Protesters Draw Criticism over Actions, Proposals

In the past week, Reclaim Harvard Law School protesters have occupied Wasserstein Lounge, drawing dozens of supporters and holding free meals, speaker talks, and group meetings.

However, the protesters, who are demanding changing to the Law School seal, hiring several critical race theory professors, and evaluating professors on the basis of implicit bias, among other things, have drawn criticism as well.

“It makes me feel uncomfortable,” 3L Kurt Krieger said. “One of the problems with this movement is that it silences a large group of people.”

“Many of the students who disagree with [Reclaim HLS] aren’t willing to speak up about it from fear of being called racist,” 2L James D’Cruz said, though “people at Harvard are already the most accepting of race that I’ve ever seen.”

Continue reading “Protesters Draw Criticism over Actions, Proposals”