LOS ANGELES The Supreme Court of California ruled on Monday it is illegal to sell shoes made from kangaroo leather in the state, in a decision against defendant German sports manufacturer Adidas.
California has not allowed products made from kangaroos to be sold or imported into the state since 1971. But Adidas, which sells 10 styles of soccer shoes using the skins, had claimed the state law conflicted with the aims of the U.S. Endangered Species Act, which sought to support Australian efforts to control kangaroos. The expanding population of the jumping marsupials has become a problem for Australia.
"The bottom line is they've decided the California law is constitutional. As of now, it is illegal to sell products made of kangaroos in California," said Orly Degani, a lawyer for Viva! USA, an animal rights group that first filed a lawsuit in 2003 challenging the sale of kangaroo-skin shoes in the state.
A lawyer for the Humane Society of the United States, which filed a "friend of the court" brief on behalf of plaintiffs Viva! USA, called the court's decision "critically important" for species other than just kangaroos -- such as grizzly bears, bald eagles and wolves, which are dependent on state protection.
"When the federal government decides not to protect a species, the state can still do so," said HSUS counsel Jonathan Lovvorn, explaining the ruling. "What Adidas was saying was when the federal government decides not to protect a species, the state can't protect it either. That was squarely rejected by the court."
But a lawyer for Adidas said the company was free to sell the shoes with kangaroo skins while other issues not decided by the Supreme Court are sent back to the appeals court to be decided.
Those outstanding issues center on whether Viva! USA has standing to bring the case, and whether the California law violates the commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution, said attorney Martin Fineman.
"What the Supreme Court did today, it ruled against us on one issue on that statute," Fineman said, adding that the company was considering whether to take the preemption issue decided on Monday to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, a bill that would change California's law so that it would not apply to legally culled kangaroos is working its way through the state legislature.
"Although Adidas makes some shoes using kangaroo leather, a common practice in our industry, Adidas does not make shoes from any endangered or threatened kangaroo species," said Adidas spokeswoman Andrea Corso.
The Supreme Court's decision reversed a victory for defendants Adidas and retailers Sports Chalet and Offside Soccer last year when they won their appeal of the lawsuit brought by Viva! USA.