One of the only fur showrooms in San Francisco before the ban was approved in 2018.

San Francisco’s recent ban on the sale of new fur products can go on unimpeded by a legal attempt from a pro-fur group.

A California federal judge last week dismissed a lawsuit from the International Fur Federation, a pro-fur group based in London, that argued San Francisco’s ban on the manufacture and sale of new furs was unconstitutional and in violation of the dormant Commerce Clause, which gives the federal government some power over states’ buying and selling powers.

The IFF attempted to position the dismissal of its case as a victory by claiming it forced the judge to “find” that online sales of new fur products from outside vendors could continue. But, as the judge made clear in his order, such an argument by IFF was “purely hypothetical” as San Francisco’s ban does not prevent people in the city from buying new fur products via an online retailer outside its jurisdiction.

“In fact, the Department [of Health] has expressly disavowed any intention of enforcing the fur ban in this way via the FAQs on its web site, of which defendants themselves request judicial notice be taken,” the judge wrote. “The FAQs clearly state the department will provide public notice should its interpretation of the fur ban change.”

As for the IFF’s other claims that the ban is somehow unconstitutional, the judge disagreed there as well. He dismissed outright arguments that the ban regulates “wholly out-of-state conduct,”  that it amounts to an “import sales ban,” and that it creates an undue financial burden as “factually incorrect and not borne out by the relevant law.”

“A number of cases mentioned by IFF confirm its confusion regarding the proper legal standard,” the judge added.

With that, he dismissed the IFF’s claims but did allow the group to refile within three weeks, “To the extent it can plausibly allege facts which address the deficiencies identified in this order.”

In a statement, the IFF said it intends to refile.

Mike Brown, chief executive officer of IFF in the Americas, added that San Francisco “initially had announced” the ban would apply to online purchases and it was the IFF lawsuit that caused a reversal. 

“That is a win to us,” Brown said.

Nicholas Arrivo, an attorney for the Humane Society of the United States, which became an intervenor defendant in the case, supported the judge’s ruling as a clearer win for animal rights advocates, which have been largely behind bans on fur.

“This ruling reaffirms a principle that was never in doubt: San Francisco has every right to prohibit the sale of cruelly produced fur products within the city,” Arrivo said. “The fur industry’s meritless suit now joins the long and growing list of failed challenges to democratically enacted state and local laws barring the sale of cruelly produced animal products.”

The ban in San Francisco was passed unanimously by city officials in 2018 and the law gave brands and retailers through the end of last year to sell off any affected inventory. The law took effect in January and does not impose a ban on vintage fur pieces, those used for religious purposes, nor does it include materials like leather, cowhide and shearling (materials that often make their way to market as part of the food industry).

The State of California and the City of Los Angeles also in 2019 passed bans on newly made fur products, with the same exclusions. Pro-fur groups vowed litigation against those laws as well, but there is a window of several years before they officially take effect. The city and State of New York are also considering similar bans on fur products, as well as the state of Hawaii, although much legislative focus has shifted to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

Still, the bans have come as the fashion industry has started to largely move away from the use of fur.

Stella McCartney is a longtime advocate of fur-free and vegan fashion, but houses such as Gucci, Chanel and Michael Kors, among many others, have decided more recently to abandon fur after decades of use, although those products made up only a small percentage of those brands’ sales. Retailers like Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s have also stopped selling fur products.

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