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HSUS files lawsuit aiming to reinstate rule tabled by Trump



By Sadie Fowler

The Humane Society of the United States filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday, Aug. 14 against the United States Department of Agriculture in what the HSUS called an attempt to reinstate a final rule that was set aside by the Trump administration back in 2017 that would have banned action devices, pads and eliminated the Horse Industry Organization structure. 

Amidst all the legalism and overstatements within the HSUS’s media release about the lawsuit, many walking horse leaders believe the move by the HSUS was nothing more than a press play given the timing of it — the Celebration is just around the corner. Furthermore, the HSUS experienced defeat last week with the withdrawal of a resolution related to the walking horse that had been brought to the Nashville Metro Council.

Legal experts, both within and representing the industry, are reviewing the lawsuit and if any action is required that will be reported in the days and weeks to come. These representatives also express their confidence that it was very much within Trump’s power to stop the rulemaking back in 2017. 

The rule the HSUS is referencing in the lawsuit was issued in 2017 and would have amended regulations that fall under the Horse Protection Act. However, upon Trump taking office this rule was withdrawn, as were all other rules that had not yet been published within the Office of Federal Register.

“The lawsuit argues that by withdrawing the final rule, the USDA not only violated the legal requirements of rulemaking, but also violated its mandate under the HPA,” according to the press release issued by the HSUS following its news of the lawsuit. “The lawsuit was filed by pro bono counsel at the law firm Latham & Watkins, LLP and the HSUS’s Animal Protection Litigation team. Several individual plaintiffs joined the HSUS and HSLF.”

Regardless of claims on either side of the lawsuit, the primary fact as it relates to the walking horse industry is merely that a lawsuit has been filed, whereas the HSUS is asking for a change. But until a judge rules on it, nothing changes. 

Going back to 2017 for the sake of background, shortly taking office Trump froze all regulations — not merely the rule related to walking horses — that had been sent — not published — to the OFR. Trump made this call to ensure his appointees or designees would have the opportunity to review any new or pending regulations. 
The USDA rule that fell in this category (meaning it was sent to the OFR but not yet published) would have banned the action device, pads and eliminated the HIO structure. 

Citing its reasons for the lawsuit, the HSUS press release claims, “In 2010, USDA’s Inspector General released a comprehensive audit of the agency’s Horse Protection Program, concluding that the industry self-policing system – the one authorized by the regulations that would have been replaced by the final rule – was fraught with conflicts of interest, inadequate to prevent soring, and should be abolished. USDA agreed with the Inspector General’s recommendations and said then that it would implement new regulations to remedy the problem.”

The HSUS release continues, “With the final rule, the agency at long last took the necessary actions to move toward fulfilling its obligations under the HPA. On Jan. 13, 2017, USDA put out a press release announcing the final rule and sent the rule to the Office of the Federal Register where it was put on public inspection and scheduled for publication. However, the rule was withdrawn a few days later by the new administration, without following any of the procedures mandated by law to repeal a duly issued, prescribed and promulgated final rule; agency officials have since placed the final rule on “inactive” status and have resisted efforts to move forward on it.”

Critics of the HSUS and supporters of the walking horse industry would argue the HSUS’s take on legalities but nonetheless are paying attention, reviewing and will keep the industry informed as news about this unfolds.

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