The Ivory Education Institute (IEI), an association formed in 2014 to advance the interests of collectors of objects made from ivory, filed their complaint against The State of California and the Department of Fish and Wildlife at the Superior Court in Los Angeles on December 15, 2015.
Godfrey Harris, director of the IEI, said that under Assembly Bill 96, passed by the legislature of the State of California in 2015, "ivory objects held throughout California will be rendered worthless".
He added: "We believe the court will see [Bill 96] for what it is - 'feel good' legislation with no appreciable likelihood of saving elephants, but with considerable loss to the public."
The complaint asks that the authorities strike down the bill on the grounds that it is unconstitutional.
Following federal restrictions on the trade in ivory in 2014, a number of US states have followed with tougher rules. The IEI say that "with certain modest exceptions" Assembly Bill 96 will make it a crime to sell any elephant or marine ivory - regardless of whether raw or worked and regardless of the age of the item.
Fines will be between $1000-10,000 for a first offence and more for subsequent convictions.
Chief among the objections to Bill 96 filed by the IEI is that the new law deprives owners of the value of their property without proper compensation. The IEI believe this violates the so-called 'taking' clause in the US constitution.
Bill 96 repeals a statute in place since 1976 that allowed pre-1977 ivory works of art to be traded.
The IEI further say the law in California will violate the Commerce Clause of the US Constitution because it amounts to an attempt by one state to control commerce outside its borders. It was this argument that saw the reach of the California Resale Royalty Act narrowed in 2015.
The IEI add that the US constitution requires that international matters such as this be restricted to actions by the Federal Government.
The IE also take issue with Bill 96 on the grounds that:
• The 20% or 5% rule will be open to guesswork (see below).
• There is no demonstrable benefit to current African elephant herds by banning sales of antiques.
• There is no additional provision for funding the law.
• There is no basis for including extinct species in the list of prohibited items.
Harris told ATG that the State of California have asked for a ten-day extension to the 30-day limit in which to file a response on behalf of the Department of Fish and Wildlife. He expects legal action will begin January 25.
Ivory Law Factfile
• The ivory law that comes into effect in California on July 1 this year (Assembly Bill 96) extends to the teeth and tusks of extinct species (mammoth and mastodon) and includes hippo, walrus, warthog, whale and narwhal.
• It will allow only for sales of pre-1975 musical instruments where ivory forms less than 20% or the volume and antiques (defined as objects not less than 100 years old) where ivory forms less than 5% of the volume.