Who Is Cass Sunstein and Why Should You Care?

And what does he have to do with critters? The new Regulartory Czar is a Harvard-educated lawyer. He co-edited a book with Martha Nussbaum, published in 2004, entitled Animal Rights: Current Debates and New Directions. In true academic-legalese form, the debate is framed in the book’s introduction. And yet, the radical nature of issues presented as valid alternatives in the animals rights debate are telling.

It would not occur to those of us who advocate for animal welfare, animal adoption, humane treatment and an end to brutal practices of animal slaughter, to equate ownership of a companion animal to human slavery. Without stating his personal point of view, Mr. Sunstein presents this as an issue that may be morally equivalent to a discussion about the adequacy of food and shelter provided to laboratory animals. He also injects the issue of giving animals legal standing to pursue remediation in the courts. Afterall, his book is called “Animal Rights” not “Animal Advocacy.”

On Thursday, September 10, 2009, the United States Senate confirmed President Barack Obama’s nominee Cass Sunstein to be Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) by a vote of 59-40. The vote may look like a party-line split, but it was not. Five Democrats and independent Bernie Sanders (Vermont) voted against the confirmation, and six Republicans voted for it.

    Democrats opposed:

  • Mark Begich (Alaska)
  • Blanche Lincoln (Arkansas)
  • Ben Nelson (Nebraska)
  • Mark Pryor (Arkansas)
  • Jim Webb (Virginia)
    Republicans in favor:

  • Bob Bennett (Utah)
  • Susan Collins (Maine)
  • Orin Hatch (Utah)
  • Richard Lugar (Indiana)
  • Olympia Snowe (Maine)
  • George Voinovich (Ohio)

In his new role at OIRA, Mr. Sunstein will be the regulators’ regulator, reviewing draft regulations affecting many agencies. The OIRA is part of the Office of Management and Budget. The OIRA director is responsible for reviewing federal agency regulations and cost benefit analysis. It is unclear how that role might evolve under the Obama regime.

While farmers and ranchers may look askance at the Sunstein confirmation, so should anyone reading this posting on the internet. One of the key functions of OIRA is to oversee implementation of government-wide policies in the areas of information technology, information policy, privacy, and statistical policy. As a mere mortal who stumbles over the meaning of bureaucratic government-speak, I am uncertain as to whether the implementation information policy is just within government agencies or if that can be expanded. But I do have it on good authority that Mr. Sunstein is in favor of some sort of “fairness doctrine” on the Internet.

Keep an eye on what the this czar does in the next few weeks.

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