Constitutional Law

Hemingway Cat Descendants Are Regulated by Federal Law, Appeals Court Says

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Descendants of Ernest Hemingway’s six-toed cat Snowball that live at his museum home are subject to federal regulation because they substantially affect interstate commerce, a federal appeals court has ruled.

The cats roam the late author’s former Key West home at 907 Whitehead Street, now a museum that hosts daily tours and weddings, report the Christian Science Monitor and National Public Radio. On Friday, the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled (PDF) that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has the authority to regulate the felines.

“The exhibition of the Hemingway cats is integral to the museum’s commercial purpose, and thus, their exhibition affects interstate commerce,” the court said. “For these reasons, Congress has the power to regulate the museum and the exhibition of the Hemingway cats.”

The USDA acted after a visitor complained several years ago about the museum’s care of the cats. The agency wanted the museum to obtain an animal exhibitor’s license; either cage the cats at night, construct a higher fence to contain them, or hire a night watchman to keep an eye on them; tag each cat; and construct “elevated resting surfaces” for animals, according to the opinion.

Despite the adverse holding, the court admitted some sympathy with the museum’s situation. “We appreciate the museum’s somewhat unique situation, and we sympathize with its frustration,” the court said. “Nevertheless, it is not the court’s role to evaluate the wisdom of federal regulations implemented according to the powers constitutionally vested in Congress.”

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