When People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) sought a court ruling declaring SeaWorld’s killer whales “slaves” under the 13th Amendment, the nation got a badly needed chuckle. PETA argued that because the amendment doesn’t specify that its terms apply only to human beings—“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude .  .  . shall exist within the United States”—then captive whales can be slaves too.

The case—Tilikum, Katina, Corky, Kasatka, and Ulises, five orcas et al. v. SeaWorld—was brought in the Ninth Circuit, where history shows anything can happen. But not this time. District Court judge Jeffrey T. Miller made short work of PETA’s publicity stunt, ruling sensibly: Both historic and contemporary sources reveal that the terms “slavery” and “involuntary servitude” refer only to persons. In 1864, the term “slavery” was defined as “[t] he condition of a slave; the state of entire subjection of one person to the will of another.” .  .  . The clear language and historical context reveal that only human beings, or persons, are afforded the protection of the 13th Amendment.

In other words, since humans are, and animals aren’t, persons, case dismissed!

But don’t imagine the story will end there. For years, animal rights activists have been preparing the intellectual ground to overcome the “animals aren’t persons” legal impediment to their goal of allowing animals to sue their owners—a concept known as “animal standing”—by which they plan to destroy animal industries and eventually end all domestication of animals.