Environmentalists Intervene in Challenge of NY Ivory Ban

MANHATTAN (CN) – A federal judge ushered several environmental-advocacy and animal-rights groups into the ring Monday for a challenge of New York’s ban on ivory sales.

A panoramic view of seized artifacts and tchotchkes to be destroyed in an Aug. 3, 2017, ivory-crush event. (ADAM KLASFELD/Courthouse News Service).

Filed in March by the Art and Antique Dealers League of America Inc. and the National Antique and Art Dealers Association of America Inc., the case here contends that the New York scheme is pre-empted by federal statute.

U.S. District Judge Lorna G. Schofield granted requests to intervene Monday from the Humane Society of the United States, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Wildlife Conservation Society, all of which had some hand in advancing the state’s ivory ban.

Because New York used to permit sales of ivory sourced from Africa before 1978 or Asia before 1976, some dealers would pass off new ivory as antique to circumvent regulation. So in 2014, New York banned antique ivory, rhino and mammoth horn trade, as well. The state is one of the top ivory markets in the country.

“The poaching crisis is real,” said Zak Smith, a senior attorney at the NRDC who is also director of the organization’s Wildlife Trade Initiative. “New York’s ban is an important piece of ensuring the survival of elephants and rhinos, and we’ll be working very hard to defend it in court.”

Smith’s outlook on the case is positive.

“I expect [the ban] will survive this challenge by industry members who have different motivations and continue to seek to make profits off of products that contain ivory,” Smith said in an interview.

Challengers of the law meanwhile want New York to give a pass to antique ivory — defined as a century old or older — and products containing less than 50 percent ivory.

Explaining why his group and the others intervened in the case, Smith said: “there are certain things we wanted to make sure we bring to the table that New York may not have an interest in defending.”

One such issue is the NRDC’s broader push to close domestic ivory markets around the world. China, for example, shut down its legal ivory trade at the end of 2017 after a joint pledge with the United States.

But challengers of the New York scheme note that the federal government’s regulations, including the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act, are tough enough. They say New York’s ivory ban is overbroad and has restricted their First Amendment rights to commercial speech.

Alan Sash, an attorney for the challengers at the firm McLaughlin & Stern,, wrote in an email Tuesday that he believed the role of environmental groups was “more akin” to amici curiae, a Latin term for friends of the court, which advise on a given case.

Still, Sash said, “we respect the court’s decision to let them intervene as parties.”

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