The West Hollywood Fur Ban: Challenges and Implications in Berkeley and Beyond

Each year, over one billion animals are killed in the fur trade globally, meaning that, every second, roughly 31 animals are killed merely for their fur.[1] In 2011, the City of West Hollywood took a stand for animal welfare by passing an ordinance making it illegal to sell or trade fur within its boundaries. The passage of this ban was a significant legal milestone in protecting nonhuman animals and was the first of its kind to be passed in the United States.[2] Berkeley passed a similar ban in 2017, which it modeled after the West Hollywood ordinance.[3]

The City of West Hollywood Municipal Code § 9.51.020, which passed in 2011 and came into effect in 2013, bans the sale and trade of any “fur product,” which is defined as any clothing apparel made from fur. The ordinance does not affect the personal ownership or wearing of fur products. Nonprofit organizations and private parties are exempt from the ordinance’s restriction on the sale of fur products.

Mayfair House, a retailer that had sold fur products in West Hollywood, filed a legal complaint against the ordinance in federal court. In Mayfair House, Inc. v. City of West Hollywood [4], Mayfair argued that terms in the ordinance were unconstitutionally vague.  For example, Mayfair claimed that the term “fur” was unconstitutionally vague, because it was unclear whether shearling (skin from a recently shorn sheep or lamb) constituted fur under the ordinance. Chief Judge King called the vagueness argument “disingenuous”[5] stating that the language of the ordinance was not unconstitutionally vague, because “people of ordinary intelligence can understand what it prohibits.”[6]

Mayfair also argued that the ordinance violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution, claiming that the true motivation of the ordinance was to target specific retailers for the benefit of nonprofit organizations and private parties which were still permitted to sell used fur products. The Court also rejected this argument, finding that the purpose of the ordinance had a “rational basis” or was rationally related to a legitimate government interest: to promote the humane treatment of animals. The Court noted that the actual motive for the ordinance was “irrelevant.”[7]

The federal court ruling in favor of West Hollywood’s fur ordinance will hopefully encourage other legislatures to pass similar ordinances. Chief Judge King’s determination that the ordinance’s purpose of raising awareness of the suffering of animals in the fur trade was a “legitimate legislative goal”[8] is indicative of positive changes in attitudes toward the fur trade and animal welfare in general. More jurisdictions will undoubtedly take inspiration from West Hollywood’s ordinance in the future, for the sake of the countless animals tortured and killed in the fur trade. The prohibitions on the sale of fur in Berkeley and West Hollywood could very well prompt a statewide ban modeled upon these local ordinances.


[1] Last Chance for Animals: http://www.weho.org/city-hall/city-departments/public-works/code-compliance/fur-ban

[2] According to Pierre Grzybowski of the Humane Society of the United States: http://www.cnn.com/2011/US/01/25/california.fur.free.city/

[3] http://aldf.org/blog/berkeley-california-becomes-second-u-s-city-to-ban-sale-of-fur-clothing/

[4] Mayfair House, Inc. v. City of West Hollywood:

http://www.fashionapparellawblog.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/194/2014/07/Mayfair-House-Inc.-v.-City-of-West-Hollywood.pdf

[5] id. at § III.A.1.
[6  id. at § III.A.4.
[7] id. at §  III.B.3.

Sources:

ALDF Coverage of Berkeley Fur Ban
http://aldf.org/blog/berkeley-california-becomes-second-u-s-city-to-ban-sale-of-fur-clothing/

City of West Hollywood, §9.51.020
https://www.animallaw.info/local/ca-west-hollywood-chapter-948-animal-control-regulations#s020

City of West Hollywood, Information on Fur Ban
http://www.weho.org/city-hall/city-departments/public-works/code-compliance/fur-ban

CNN, 2011 Article on the Fur Ban
http://www.cnn.com/2011/US/01/25/california.fur.free.city/

Dog and Cat Protection Act (19 U.S. Code § 1308)
https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/19/1308

Last Chance for Animals, Fur Trade Facts
http://www.lcanimal.org/index.php/campaigns/fur/fur-trade-facts

Legal Ruling on Challenge Against the Ban: Mayfair House, Inc. v. City of West Hollywood:
http://www.fashionapparellawblog.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/194/2014/07/Mayfair-House-Inc.-v.-City-of-West-Hollywood.pdfEndnotes:

Author: Michelle V. Paul
Contributors: Kartik Triveni Raj