Vol. 26 No. 4 (August 2016) pp. 75 – 77

NAVIGATING THE JUNGLE: LAW, POLITICS, AND THE ANIMAL ADVOCACY MOVEMENT, by Steven C. Tauber. New York: Routledge, 2016. 212 pp. Cloth $155.00. ISBN: 9781612051284. Paper $49.95. ISBN: 9781612051291.

Reviewed by Paul M. Collins, Jr., Department of Political Science, University of Massachusetts Amherst. Email:

Scholars have long been interested in understanding social movement litigation. Early studies, such as Vose (1959), tended to focus primarily on the effectiveness of organizational litigation in terms of case outcomes. When Scheingold (1974) suggested that interest group litigation was based on a “myth of rights,” scholars began to recognize the limits of using litigation to achieve social change in their analyses of legal mobilization (e.g., McCann 1994). This included focusing not only on how interest group litigation influences legal outcomes, but also on less obvious form of influence, such as public support for a movement.

In NAVIGATING THE JUNGLE: LAW, POLITICS, AND THE ANIMAL ADVOCACY MOVEMENT, political scientist Steven C. Tauber makes an outstanding contribution to our understanding of social movement litigation. Focusing on the battle over animal rights and welfare, Tauber documents the struggles that animal advocacy groups face in using the court system to promote the well-being of animals. In addition to looking at how litigation by animal advocacy groups shapes judicial decision making, Tauber investigates how this form of lobbying influences media coverage of animal advocacy issues. By combining rich qualitative analyses with statistical models, Tauber demonstrates the myriad means by which political forces shape the development of animal law.

As the book explains, Tauber has played a role in the animal advocacy movement as a member and advisor to the Nonhuman Rights Project, a group whose goal is to establish legal rights for animals. This has provided the author with somewhat unusual access to several of the movement’s key actors. Though direct involvement with a movement always has the potential to shape the conclusions drawn from the study of that movement, this involvement has not colored the interpretations of the data presented in the volume. Rather, Tauber lets the data guide his understanding of the success of the movement.

The introductory chapter sets up the book by explaining the importance of animal rights and the animal advocacy movement, as well as the approach taken in the book. Tauber classifies animal law cases as non-aggressive and aggressive, based on whether animal rights advocates are asking the courts to depart from existing policies and precedents. Non-aggressive cases are those in which the “pro-animal” side asks judges to uphold existing policies and precedents, such as cases involving animal cruelty laws. Aggressive cases are those in which the “pro-animal” side asks judges to overturn existing policies and precedents, such as granting legal rights to animals. These distinctions are important as they have implications for the types of cases that are litigated by various animal advocacy organizations, the success of those lawsuits, and media coverage of animal advocacy litigation.

Tauber’s overall approach in the book is to emphasize the political factors that shape animal advocacy litigation in both federal and state courts. As it pertains to understanding the outcomes of animal law cases, this means adopting an integrated model of judicial decision making. This approach calls for examining an array of factors that can shape judicial choice, including the presence of animal advocacy organizations and government attorneys, judges’ ideological preferences, and state selection mechanisms. To evaluate the relative influence of these variables on the outcomes of cases, [*76] Tauber utilizes an original database of 450 animal law cases in the U.S. District Courts decided from 1970 to 2010 and 232 animal law cases decided in state courts of last resort from 1973 to 2010. Thus, this is a rare study that examines both federal and state law, as well as trial and appellate courts.

Chapter 1 provides an overview of the development of the animal rights movement. Beginning with an illuminating look at how moral philosophers – from those in ancient Greece to the modern era – view animal rights, the chapter then provides an important history of animal law scholarship. Tauber next presents an overview of contemporary approaches to judicial politics that inform his research design and methodological choices. Notably, he explains how his work provides an update to Silverstein’s (1996) seminal work on the animal law movement by employing quantitative models of judicial decision making and incorporating an integrated model of judicial choice. Together, these two works could successfully form the foundation of a course in animal law.

Chapter 2 pertains to the development of the animal advocacy movement. Tauber provides a rich history of the beginning of this movement in nineteenth century Great Britain as an attempt to prevent individuals from mistreating domestic and farm animals. This movement quickly made its way to the United States as New York became the first state to ban animal cruelty in 1829 (although the law was quite limited). Tauber then explains the key actors in the modern animal advocacy movement. These include organizations focused on animal welfare, such as the Humane Society of the United States, and those whose goals pertain to establishing the legal rights of animals, such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). The chapter closes with an empirical description of the litigators involved in animal law cases in federal and state courts, as well as a look at the success of animal advocacy organizations. Taken as a whole, there is limited evidence that the participation of animal advocacy organizations increases the frequency of “pro-animal” decisions in both federal and state courts.

Chapter 3 provides an in-depth investigation into animal law in the federal district courts. After providing a discussion of federal animal legislation, Tauber presents an overview of key issues pertaining to both non-aggressive and aggressive animal law cases. The heart of this chapter involves an examination of judicial outcomes in animal law cases. Using both qualitative and quantitative methods, Tauber reveals some important patterns in the treatment of animal law cases. For example, he uncovers some of the challenges to litigating such cases, including obtaining standing, and further shows that the likelihood of a “pro-animal” outcome is shaped by the type of case being brought and substantially enhanced by the presence of a Democratic judge. Significantly, the presence of animal litigation specialists does not appear to shape the outcome of these cases.

Chapter 4 follows the general approach taken in the previous chapter, but focuses on state high courts. Here, Tauber finds evidence that “aggressive” cases brought by animal advocacy groups are more likely to be decided in the “pro-animal” direction. In addition, decisions in animal rights cases are shaped by the selection system employed to choose state judges and the prevailing ideology of the state’s elite political actors. More specifically, judges selected through merit systems are more likely to rule in the “pro-animal” direction, as are those serving in states with more liberal elite ideologies.

As noted above, investigating legal outcomes is but one way to capture the role that social movement litigation plays. Accordingly, in Chapter 5 Tauber explores the relationship between animal advocacy litigation and media coverage of animal law cases. As with the previous two chapters, both qualitative and quantitative methods are employed. In general, advocacy litigation is highly correlated with media coverage of animal law, although this coverage is not necessarily all positive. For example, when PETA unsuccessfully sued Sea World, claiming that keeping orcas in captivity violated the Thirteenth Amendment, many media outlets reported the case in unfavorable terms. Of interest, Tauber also finds that [*77] non-litigation activity, such as peaceful protests, actually creates more favorable media coverage than litigation. The book concludes with an overview of the key conclusions and suggests directions for future research.

Taken as a whole, this is an important work on an understudied subject. I am particularly impressed by the compelling use of vignettes to open most of the chapters that serve to draw the reader in and demonstrate the significance of the subject matter. Moreover, the use of mixed-methods is impressive and makes the book accessible to a wide range of scholars. I believe this book is a significant addition to the literature on animal law, social movement litigation, and judicial decision making. Further, it is appropriate for use in undergraduate, graduate, and law school courses on all of these topics.

As with any important work, there are a number of areas that future studies can build on. For example, I would like to see additional work on how animal advocacy organizations choose venues to file lawsuits, a topic that is briefly addressed by Tauber. Moreover, there are some short discussions of conflict between animal rights organizations that can be expanded on in additional studies. Finally, I would like to see more attention paid to how animal advocacy organizations choose cases to litigate. I was left with the impression that many of these organizations choose to take more difficult, “aggressive” cases, which likely accounts for the general lack of support for the notion that group litigation increases the chances of “pro-animal” decisions. These are not meant to be criticisms of this fine work, but rather suggestions for how others can build on this important addition to the literature.


McCann, Michael W. 1994. Rights at Work: Pay Equity Reform and the Politics of Legal Mobilization. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Scheingold, Stuart A. 1974. The Politics of Rights: Lawyers, Public Policy, and Political Change. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Silverstein, Helena. 1996. Unleashing Rights: Law, Meaning, and the Animal Rights Movement. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Vose, Clement E. 1959. Caucasians Only: The Supreme Court, the NAACP, and the Restrictive Covenant Cases. Berkeley: University of California Press.

© Copyright 2016 by author, Paul M. Collins.