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Grammar Matters As 3 Judge Panel Lifts Python Ban

April 8, 2017



Both the reticulated python (Python reticulates) and the green anaconda  (Eunectes murinus), banned in 2015 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service to possess and transport in the United States, have been granted a reprieve, thanks to grammar written in the Lacey Act more than 50 years ago.

That grammar caused a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to affirm a lower court decision barring the ban.

"The government's arguments cannot overcome the plain text," Judge Sri Srinivasan, wrote for the court.

reticulated python

Jay Brewer

The reticulated python was banned in 2015. That ban has been lifted.

The words in the clause, “states that the Interior Department can prohibit the transportation of injurious species "between the continental United States, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, or any possession of the United States,” were used in 2015 by the U.S. Interior Department to ban the transportation of these large constricting snakes.

However, the United States Association of Reptile Keepers challenged the wording of the Lacey Act, saying that it only prohibits the transportation of injurious species between the continental United States, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, or any possession of the United States, and not between INDIVIDUAL states. 

And the District of Columbia Circuit agreed with USARK. 

"The shipment clause is best read — indeed, can only be read — solely to prohibit shipments from one listed jurisdiction to another," Srinivasan wrote for the court. "The clause does not speak to shipments within the continental United States itself."

Srinivasan used the "The Chicago Manual of Style," to tear apart the FWS ruling. He also rejected Congress’ use of the word “or” in that shipment clause written in 1960,  and not the word “and” in barring interstate shipments. 

The complete ruling can be read here.

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