A federal judge -- for the first time in U.S. history -- heard arguments today (February 6, 2012) in a case that could determine whether animals enjoy the same constitutional protection against slavery as human beings, the Associated Press website reports.
U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Miller called the hearing in San Diego after Sea World asked the court to dismiss a lawsuit filed by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) that names five orcas as plaintiffs in the case.
PETA claims the captured whales are treated like slaves, in that they are forced to live in tanks and perform daily tasks at Sea World's parks in San Diego, California and Orlando, Florida.
Jeffrey Kerr -- PETA's attorney -- said, "this case is on the next frontier of civil rights." Theodore Shaw -- Sea World's attorney -- said animals "were not included in 'We the people' ... when the Constitution was adopted."