Legal Brief Helps National Academy of Sciences Balance Research Rights and Animal Rights

In 1997, staff at Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft, a law firm in Washington, helped fund the preparation of an amici curiae (friends-of-the-court) brief in support of the National Academy of Sciences.

The National Academy of Sciences, Washington, petitioned the Supreme Court to review the decision of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals holding that the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) applied to a committee of the National Academy of Sciences.

FACA was enacted in 1972 to provide rules for advisory committees established by the federal government. This case applying FACA to the Academy arose after the Animal Legal Defense Fund and other groups concerned with treatment of laboratory animals sued in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia for a declaration that FACA applied to the NAS committee that was revising a guidebook for government agencies on the care and use of laboratory animals.

The NAS position in the suit and subsequent appeals, as well as the amici curiae brief, was that applying FACA to its committees misconstrued the act, and would seriously disrupt the work of the NAS, the Institute of Medicine, the National Academy of Engineering, and the National Research Council (a review body within NAS) by fundamentally altering the process by which these entities provide independent, unbiased perspectives on complex and controversial scientific issues. The trial court decided this issue in favor of the NAS but was reversed by the D.C. Circuit, leading to the petition for Supreme Court review.

Key Results

The amici curiae brief was filed in the U.S. Supreme Court on October 3, 1997. Eighty-four prominent scientists, including 58 Nobel Laureates and four former Science Advisors to the President, signed the brief.

The Court declined to accept the petition for review.

After the grant, in November 1997, the U.S. Congress passed legislation, which was signed into law on December 17, 1997, partially exempting the National Academy of Sciences from FACA.