Invasive Species Law

My newest article is forthcoming with the University of California Irvine Law Review. This article, titled: “If I See A Burmese Python, I’m Gonna Kill that Shit”: How Changing the Object of the Law Affects Support for Legal Regulation.

Abstract – This Article considers what it means for law to have an object – and subsequently measures the consequences of changing an object of the law. I adopt a multi-faceted meaning of the word ‘object,’ considering an object to a ‘real’ thing, a ‘legal’ thing, and a ‘social’ thing. This theoretical investigation of objects culminates in a theory of the objectification of the law, whereby a law becomes perhaps too strongly identified with one particular object.

I then test the consequences of this objectification through a 500-person digital survey experiment centered on invasive species law. Taking recent laws regulating snakes and reptiles in Florida as inspiration, I design and field an experiment that varies the ‘social’ element of an object, holding the law constant. Specifically, I compare support for regulating snakes and reptiles to regulating another invasive species: the housecat.

I conclude that support for regulation varies substantially by the social desirability of the object of that law. That is, participants were staunchly opposed to regulating cats, but offered few objections to regulating snakes and reptiles. In addition to quantitative measures of support for hypothetical regulatory policies, I also conduct detailed qualitative analysis of participant explanations for their support or opposition to a hypothetical invasive species law and executive order. Using direct quotes and thematic discourse analysis, I further elaborate on 5 themes: regulating responsibility, duty to the environment, alternative regulatory strategies and removal, perceived unintended consequences to regulation, and a general dislike for one object (snakes) vs. the other (cats). The cumulative weight of this analysis shows that participants employed competing and often incompatible logics in order to rationalize regulation of the undesirable object compared to the desirable object. I conclude with discussion of the implications of these findings substantively for invasive species law, methodologically for future experiments, and theoretically as applied to future studies of object-centered law.

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