Last week, the Sixth Circuit upheld a state law that requires Ohioans who own lions, pythons, and other dangerous animals to implant them with a microchip. The case, styled Wilkens v. Daniels, was a challenge to Ohio’s Dangerous Animals Act brought by a group of exotic animal owners who challenged the constitutionality of the act.

Ohio lawmakers passed the act in response to an incident in which one resident released over 50 exotic animals and then committed suicide. The law attempts to regulate dangerous and exotic animals in order to avoid similar incidents in the future. The law requires exotic animals to be registered and microchipped, and to have male animals sterilized. However, the law makes an exemption for people accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums or the Zoological Association of America.

The plaintiffs argued that the exemption mentioned above constituted a compelled speech, which is prohibited by the First Amendment since it essentially required them to join one of these organizations and subsidize their speech. Second, they argued that the forced microchipping of their property constituted an unconstitutional taking.

The court rejected both of these innovative arguments.  First, they noted that there were 15 ways to comply with the act, rejecting the appellants’ forced association claim. The court rejected the appellants’ second argument by analogizing to similar types of regulations. If a microchip is considered a physical taking, then laws requiring license plates or warning labels could be called into question. The court said, “Indeed, the act is close kin to the general welfare regulations that the Supreme Court ensured were not constitutionally suspect . . . [t]here is little difference between a law requiring a microchip in an animal and a law requiring handrails in apartment buildings.”

In the wake of this decision, Ohioans can sleep a little better at night knowing that potentially dangerous animals are being closed monitored.

–Andrew Bauer

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