May 27, 2015

CHIMPANZEES GET THEIR DAY IN COURT: Two research chimps at Stony Brook University got a hearing in a NY State court today, where their lawyers (for the Nonhuman Rights Project) argued that they are entitled to habeas corpus.  I’ve written about this case before.

Its lawyers said that personhood rights have already been applied to corporations, rivers and ships. If chimps are also eligible, they are then eligible for the writ of habeas corpus, which gives those who believe they are unlawfully detained or imprisoned the right to appear in court.

During the hearing, Nonhuman Rights Project’s president and animal-rights lawyerSteven Wise drew parallels to past court cases over the rights of slaves, prisoners and Native Americans.

Assistant Attorney General Christopher Coulston said these cases didn’t apply.

“There is simply no precedent anywhere of a nonhuman animal receiving the kinds of rights they’re talking about,” Mr. Coulston said.

But there is an understanding that law evolves, said New York Supreme Court JusticeBarbara Jaffe, based on scientific discoveries and social mores.

“Witness marital rights,” she said. “Isn’t it incumbent upon the judiciary to at least consider whether a class of beings may be granted a right or something short of a right, under the habeas statute?”

In a brief filed Friday, the attorney general’s office wrote that current animal-rights laws are sufficient, and to grant chimps additional rights was a slippery slope.

To extend the writ of habeas corpus “could set a precedent for the release of other animals held in captivity, whether housed at a zoo, in an educational institution, on a farm, or owned as a domesticated pet,” the brief reads.

It’s a slippery slope indeed, but that’s not the primary reason why this argument needs to be summarily rejected.  Humans are humans, and the law of  humans does not apply to nonhumans.  Period.  Any other approach leads to unprincipled line drawing among different animal species.  Why chimps but not dolphins or elephants?  What about cows, dogs, ants or roaches?  If humans wish to confer special statutory protections to certain animals–such as domesticated pets–that is perfectly appropriate.  But to apply a law that protects human beings–such as habeas corpus–to animals is the height of lunacy.

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