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Update: White House removes petition seeking honors for cat

November 14, 2012 by Scott Bomboy


An official White House website that asks for petitions from voters has apparently killed a move to get an honorary seat for a cat who came in third in a U.S. Senate race.


Hank the Cat may have ruffled some feathers in Washington after his write-in campaign made headlines. The cat’s supporters posted a petition on a White House website called We the People, which allows citizens, in the spirit of the First Amendment, to petition the government with ideas.


The First Amendment reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”


Apparently, that may not apply to cats or the owners of cats who place their pets in a U.S. Senate race.


Official Hank the Cat campaign photo.

The site has gotten its share of headlines for allowing people to post some unusual petitions about states leaving the union, and anyone who supports secession as being targets for deportation.


We spoke with Matt O’Leary, Hank’s campaign manager, last night, and he said the petition for Hank the Cat had been deleted from the We the People website.


“Apparently it’s okay to call for exiling American citizens, but not giving an honorary title to a cat,” he said.


Since Monday, the site has been swamped with petitions from Obama foes who want their states to leave the union in protest of the president’s re-election.


But among the slew of new petitions was the drive to get an honorary Senate seat for Hank the Cat, the feline who apparently finished third in last Tuesday’s U.S. Senate race in Virginia.


If  Hank wants a chance at an honorary spot in Congress, he’ll need to get 25,000 signatures on his White House petition in the next 30 days—if the Obama administration changes its mind.


Hank’s petition was on the White House site at:


We checked the Terms and Conditions section of the website, and we’re not sure where Hank and O’Leary ran afoul of the White House.


“You agree not to create petitions that fall outside this limited purpose—for example, petitions that advertise or call for the endorsement or purchase of commercial goods or services, petitions that expressly urge the support or opposition of candidates for elected office, petitions that do not address the current or potential actions or policies of the federal government, or petitions that address a topic not included in We the People at the time the petition was created,” the website says.


“You also agree not to post threats of unlawful violence or harm to any individual or group; obscene, vulgar, or lewd material; defamatory or fraudulent statements; terms commonly understood to constitute profanity or abusive or degrading slurs or epithets; information invading an individual’s privacy; and information that if published would violate criminal law or give rise to civil liability. These categories of material are inconsistent with the limited purpose of We the People and the larger purpose and function of the White House’s website.”


Perhaps the petition is considered to “expressly urge the support ... of candidates for elected office.”


But it is also possible for users (e.g., members of a canine super PAC) to flag a petition, and on some user-generated contest sites, such an action would automatically take down a document like a petition.


There is an appeals process on the We the People site, but it’s not clear if the Hank campaign will seek to have the petition restored.


So far, more than 70,000 online signatures are on a petition for the state of Texas to become an independent nation.


That’s one of 16 current petitions that received 25,000 signatures that will trigger a written response from a White House representative. They include requests for Louisiana to leave the United States; to let states have their own marijuana laws; and to create laws to label genetically modified foods.


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“Since the White House has never featured anything like this, we expect to make some adjustments to improve the platform based on how people use the system and your feedback,” the site says, acknowledging that its petition-gathering process is far from perfect.


If web traffic numbers are any sign of future success, Hank had a good shot of at least getting a White House response to his petition. We easily had more than 25,000 views on our original story on Hank’s campaign success.


And Hank got shout outs this week from his friends at The Huffington Post, TIME magazine, and The Jimmy Fallon Show.


Hank also stood a better chance of getting a political honor than do the residents of Texas and Louisiana who want independent states.


The whole idea of secession hasn’t seen a lot of daylight since 1865.


The We the People site doesn’t commit to responding to all petitions that cross its threshold limits.


“The White House will convene a regular meeting with representatives from all of the major policy offices (like the National Economic Council, Domestic Policy Council and others) that will review petitions that have crossed the signature threshold for a response. This group will help determine which policy office in the White House or federal agency should review and respond to petitions and ensure that petition responses are posted as quickly as possible,” the site says.


It’s also unclear that President Obama would have the power to appoint a cat, dog, or human as an honorary senator.


That task could fall to Vice President Joe Biden, who is also the president of the Senate.


Scott Bomboy is the editor-in-chief of the National Constitution Center.


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