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New York’s Highest Court Schedules Arguments in Elephant Rights Case

By Lauren Choplin

We have a hearing date!

Sometime after 2 p.m. ET on May 18, 2022, the New York Court of Appeals will hear arguments in our elephant client Happy’s case, which¬†The Atlantic¬†has called¬†‚Äúthe most important animal-rights case of the 21st century.‚Ä̬†This date is the culmination of a journey we began on her behalf in 2018.

Our litigation challenges elephants’ archaic, unjust legal status as “things” with no rights and seeks to #FreeHappy from the Bronx Zoo to a sanctuary where she can live freely with other elephants. In Defense of Animals has just named the Bronx Zoo one of the 10 Worst Zoos for Elephants for the tenth time.

We argue that the Bronx Zoo and the Wildlife Conservation Society, which manages the zoo, have unlawfully deprived Happy of her freedom, imprisoning her alone in an exhibit that is ‚Äútoo small to meet the needs of Happy or any elephant,‚ÄĚ as elephant expert Dr. Joyce Poole has written in support of Happy‚Äôs release.

We look forward to appearing before the New York Court of Appeals, which will have the chance to right the tremendous wrong of Happy’s 45 years of imprisonment in the Bronx and finally bring Happy’s legal status into the 21st century by recognizing her legal personhood and right to liberty. The hearing will be open to the public and live-streamed. Stay tuned for further details, including how you can help!

News of the hearing date comes as a tenth brief has been submitted in support of Happy’s right to liberty, this one by a group of 27 law professors from across the United States and Canada. The amici curiae (‚Äúfriends of the court‚ÄĚ) brief draws in part on the law professors‚Äô special expertise in animal law to argue that ‚Äúdevelopments in law, ethics, and science warrant the inclusion of at least some nonhuman animals, including Happy, in the community of legal rights-holders who are entitled to justice.” Matthew Liebman, Chair of the Justice for Animals Program at the University of San Francisco School of Law, and Karen Bradshaw, Professor of Law at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University, drafted and coordinated the brief.

As The New Yorker explored in a recent feature,¬†Happy became the first elephant in the world to have habeas corpus hearings to determine the lawfulness of her imprisonment after a New York trial court issued the NhRP’s requested habeas corpus order in 2018. She’s also the first elephant to demonstrate self-awareness via the mirror test. When the New York Court of Appeals hears Happy‚Äôs case, it will become the highest court of an English-speaking jurisdiction to consider a habeas corpus case brought on behalf of a nonhuman being. We hope Happy will soon become the first elephant in the US to have her right to liberty judicially recognized.

Thank you for being part of this urgently needed change in how nonhuman animals like Happy are viewed and treated under the law.

For a detailed timeline of Happy’s case, court filings, and decisions, visit this page. Find all the latest on the fight for Happy’s freedom and ways to take action on our new Free Happy campaign page.

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