Raleigh, North Carolina (Citizen Times) – An animal rights group dropped a lawsuit onto state government Friday to keep people in Brasstown from dropping an opossum on New Year's Eve.
The suit seeks to have declared unconstitutional a bill Gov. Pat McCrory signed into law Thursday that says North Carolina wildlife protection laws will not apply to opossums each year between Dec. 29 and Jan. 2.
The law is vague and violates the equal protection clause of the state and federal constitutions "because it creates classifications of persons who are exempted from statutes and regulation, without a proper government purpose," says the lawsuit filed by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals in Wake County Superior Court.
"Legalizing the cruel Opossum Drop by legalizing all conduct with opossums is both a dramatic overreach and an embarrassing example of political cronyism," Jeffrey Kerr, PETA's general counsel, said in a statement. "PETA will continue to fight for the right of gentle opossums to be left in peace — and for the right of North Carolina citizens to have comprehensible and clearly enforceable laws, not the vague nonsense produced by the state legislature."
The annual 'possum drop in Brasstown, a small community in Clay County, can draw hundreds of people. An opossum in a clear plastic box is lowered at midnight in a reference to the crystal ball drop in New York's Times Square.
The state and PETA have been litigating since 2011 over whether the event can continue using a live opossum. A previous law pushed by Rep. Roger West, R-Cherokee, to suspend laws applying to opossums in Clay County was blocked in court, so West sponsored a bill effective statewide this year that passed the House and Senate by wide margins.
West could not be reached for comment Friday.
PETA's 34-page legal complaint says opossums lowered at the event could literally be scared to death by the experience and allowing untrained people to handle opossums raises risks of diseases being transmitted from opossums to humans.
It includes a long list of laws and rules the opossum law circumvents, including those outlawing torture and capturing or killing an animal "through the use of poison, drugs, explosives, or electricity."
The complaint says 'possum drop organizers could just as easily use a substitute for a live opossum.
"In lieu of a live animal, prior events featured, among other things, a road-killed opossum (shampooed, blow-dried and frozen), a porcelain opossum figurine, an empty box decorated with photos of opossums, and a pot reportedly filled with opossum stew," the suit says.