A petition filed yesterday in the New York Supreme Court in Fulton County may be both a capstone to the Nonhuman Rights Project (“NhRP”) and the cornerstone of what Stephen Wise has called “a sustained, strategic litigation campaign that led to a breach of the personhood barrier which currently divides humans from non-humans.” The NhRP plans to file three additional petitions in New York, all seeking the common-law writ of habeas corpus and the immediate release to sanctuaries of captive chimpanzees.
As an animal law attorney who had the great privilege of working with Professor Wise and other members of the NhRP, Karuna Law founder Dane Johnson hopes fervently that all are successful. A thoroughly researched memorandum supporting the first petition for a common-law writ of habeas corpus–and a voluminous stack of authorities supporting the autonomous nature and complex cognitive abilities of chimps–make probably the best possible case in history for granting limited rights to these nonhuman primates.
In an Animal Law article on permitting animals to benefit from their creativity by extending certain copyright protections to their works, Dane Johnson noted that neither the copyright statute nor the Constitution limited the rights granted to authors to human creators. The NhRP advances a similar argument for extending habeas protection to chimpanzees. It’s an argument rooted solidly in both legal and moral precedent and one that the judges considering the historic petition should embrace.
New York’s judges have an honorable history of recognizing the need to reshape long-obsolete laws. In Corso v. Crawford Dog and Cat Hospital, Inc., 415 N.Y.S. 2d 182 (1979), for example, the court held that damages recoverable by a plaintiff whose deceased dog’s body was wrongfully lost included mental anguish. It explained that to “say [a dog] is a piece of personal property and no more is a repudiation of our humaneness.” Denying the right to live the life of a chimpanzee in an accredited sanctuary to Tommy (who now lives in a cage at a trailer lot in Gloversville, New York), Kiko (who is deaf and lives in a private home), and Hercules and Leo (who are being used in experiments at Stony Brook University), would repudiate our humaneness to an even greater degree.
Related Animal Rights Resources
Memorandum of Law in Support of Order to Show Cause and Writ of Habeas Corpus and Order Granting the Immediate Release of Tommy.
Statute of Anne-imals: Should Copyright Protect Sentient Non-Human Creators?
15 Animal Law Review 15 (2008).