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Center for Constitutional Rights Submits Amicus Brief in Support of the NhRP

By Lauren Choplin

Last week, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR)—a leading legal advocacy organization on issues of civil liberties and human rights—submitted a Letter Brief of Amicus Curiae in support of the Nonhuman Rights Project’s Motion for Leave to Appeal to New York’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, in Tommy the chimpanzee’s case.

In their brief, CCR urges the Court to hear Tommy’s case because it “agrees with the [NhRP] that [it] presents a novel question of significant importance, both in terms of the legal precedent it will set and as a matter of social justice and public policy.”

In recent years, CCR has successfully litigated on behalf of individuals detained indefinitely at the U.S. Naval Base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, filing the first habeas corpus petitions to ensure that they had access to the courts to challenge the legality of their detention—as is their right under the U.S. Constitution, according to U.S. Supreme Court rulings in these cases.

In its Letter Brief, CCR writes that the New York Court of Appeals should determine the legality of Tommy the chimpanzee’s detention. Hearing the case, the organization emphasizes, is distinct from whether the Court decides to grant the release from detention afforded by the writ, which has been used for centuries to ensure that individuals aren’t illegally and unjustly confined:

“Just as the courts scrutinized the President’s claimed authority to create a prison outside the law where human beings could be detained and abused without the scrutiny of the judicial branch—an inquiry that itself turned on the common law use of the writ to adjudicate slave petitions for freedom—the New York Court of Appeals should take this opportunity to carefully scrutinize the Respondent’s legal authority to detain a non-human individual under the many relevant lines of legal precedent and scientific evidence recognizing a Chimpanzee’s capacity for autonomy and self-determination before summarily denying habeas personhood to Tommy.”

In urging the Court of Appeals to hear Tommy’s case, CCR joins legal scholar Laurence H. Tribe of Harvard Law and habeas corpus scholar Justin Marceau of University of Denver Law, both of whom also submitted Letter Briefs of Amicus Curiae with the Court of Appeals. You can read and download Prof. Tribe’s Letter Brief here and Prof. Marceau’s Letter Brief here.

The NhRP filed a Motion for Leave to Appeal to the Court of Appeals in Tommy’s case after the New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Third Judicial Department declared on Dec. 4, 2014 that Tommy is not a “person” entitled to a common law writ of habeas corpus because he is unable to bear duties or responsibilities. No action on the amicus curiae Letter Briefs is expected until and unless the NhRP’s motion for leave to appeal is granted.

For more information on Tommy’s case, visit his Court Cases page.

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