Home > Animal Rights > Groundbreaking lawsuit for chimp legal personhood in NY Times

Groundbreaking lawsuit for chimp legal personhood in NY Times

December 3, 2013 Leave a comment Go to comments

Today I get to share welcome news, covered in the Science section of the New York Times in an article titled: “Rights Group is Seeking Status of ‘Legal Person’ for Captive Chimpanzee.”

Reporter James Gorman opens with:

“Chimpanzees are not people, no matter how they are dressed up for commercials, but perhaps they are close enough that they deserve some of the same rights humans have.

“That is what an animal rights group claimed on Monday when it filed a classic writ of habeas corpus, that revered staple of American and English law and tired cliché of detective fiction — not for a human being held unlawfully, but for Tommy, a chimpanzee in Gloversville, N.Y.

“This is no stunt. The Nonhuman Rights Project has been working on this legal strategy for years, sifting through decisions in all 50 states to find one that is strong on what is called common law, and one that recognizes animals as legal persons for the purpose of being the beneficiary of a trust.

“The leader of the project, Steven M. Wise, who has written about the history of habeas corpus writs in the fight against human slavery and who views the crusade for animal rights as a lifelong project, said New York fit the bill.”

We read that chimpanzees have already made great gains this year, but:

“Until now, all the actions have addressed the issue of animal welfare, not animal rights. But Mr. Wise filed papers on Monday in State Supreme Court in Fulton County, N.Y., demanding that courts in New York recognize Tommy as a legal person, with a right to liberty, but one that has its limits.”

The court filing is quoted:

“This petition asks this court to issue a writ recognizing that Tommy is not a legal thing to be possessed by respondents, but rather is a cognitively complex autonomous legal person with the fundamental legal right not to be imprisoned.”

Gorman writes that conferring rights on chimps is “a move that would, among other things, distinguish them from other animals.” But those who have read Steve Wise’s books know that he is ultimately less interested in separating chimps out from other animals but instead hopes “to breach the legal wall that separates all humans from all nonhuman animals.”  He thinks that chimps are the best place to start.

You’ll find the New York Times article on line at
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