Friday, July 31, 2015

Sympathetic Court Nevertheless Rejects Claim That Chimpanzees Are "Persons" Entitled To Habeas Relief

A New York state trial court judge yesterday in a 33-page opinion sympathetic to plaintiffs' claims nevertheless rejected attempts by animal rights activists to obtain a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of two chimpanzees used in scientific studies at State University of New York at Stony Brook.  In Nonhuman Rights Project, Inc. v. Stanley, (NY Cty. Sup. Ct., July 30, 2015), after dealing with a number of procedural and jurisdictional issues, the court moved to the central question in the case: "whether a chimpanzee is a legal person entitled to bring  writ of habeas corpus." The court pointed out that "'legal personhood' is not necessarily synonymous with being human..."  Courts use the legal fiction of personhood to treat corporations as persons. However the court decided it was bound by appellate precedent to reject the claim of personhood here. The opinion concluded:
The similarities between chimpanzees and humans inspire the empathy felt for a beloved pet.  Efforts to extend legal rights to chimpanzees are thus understandable; some day they may even succeed.  Courts, however, are slow to embrace change, and occasionally seem reluctant to engage in broader, more inclusive interpretations of law, if only to the modest extent of affording them greater consideration.  As Justice Kennedy aptly observed in Lawrence v. Texas, albeit in a different context, "times can blind us to certain truths and later generations can see that laws once thought necessary and proper in fact serve only to oppress."... The pace may now be accelerating. (See Obergefell v. Hodges....)
In a press release on the decision, the Nonhuman Rights Project said it will promptly appeal the decision to the Appellate Division.  New York Times reports on the decision.