Sunstein Nomination Delayed over Views on Animal Rights

Senate Republicans are holding up the nomination of Cass Sunstein, President Obama’s pick to head the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, according to Congress Daily (via

Sunstein has written extensively on all matters of regulatory policy, including some controversial ones like cost-benefit analysis’ role in determining whether an agency should regulate and the relationship between agencies and OIRA – the executive branch gatekeeper for federal regulations.

But it’s his views on animal rights that have gotten him in a bit of a sticky wicket. Congress Daily explains:

In May, nine farm and ranch groups that produce products such as milk and veal -- including the American Farm Bureau Federation -- wrote to Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., and others to "express concern" about three academic papers in which Sunstein urged regulation of animals used in industries, including agriculture.

The letter included a paper in which Sunstein raised the possibility of animals winning the right to be plaintiffs in lawsuits. Noting that "the U.S. animal agriculture has long done political and social battle with the animal rights movement," the groups asked senators to seek assurances from Sunstein that he does not plan to regulate animal husbandry.

Roberts said he raised that question in a meeting with Sunstein last week and came away confident Sunstein does not plan such regulations. Roberts said he still might vote against Sunstein but had not placed a hold on the nomination. 

Sunstein was approved last month by the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. During his nomination hearing, Ranking Member Susan Collins (R-ME) also raised the issue of animal rights. Sunstein said he thought the issue would be beyond his purview as OIRA administrator and appeared to satisfactorily allay Collins’ concerns. He also said some of his academic writings and remarks on the subject were meant to provoke.

Still, Congress Daily reports there is actually a hold on Sunstein’s nomination. (Under Senate rules, any Senator may place a hold on a nominee or a bill, indefinitely postponing a vote.) We’ll have more news as it surfaces, or, if you have any inside scoop that you’re willing to share, leave it in the comment section below.

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