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Experts Urge Connecticut Appellate Court to Allow Elephant Rights Case to Proceed

By Lauren Choplin

Experts in Habeas Corpus, Philosophy, and Legal Ethics Urge Connecticut Appellate Court to Allow Elephant Rights Case to Proceed

~ Habeas corpus expert Professor Brandon L. Garrett is the latest to support captive elephants Beulah, Karen, and Minnie’s right to a habeas corpus hearing to determine the lawfulness of their confinement ~

~ Beulah, Karen, and Minnie have been the Nonhuman Rights Project’s clients since Nov. 13, 2017 ~

Nov. 13, 2018—Hartford, CT—Four amicus curiae briefs have been filed in The Appellate Court of Connecticut in support of a petition for a common law writ of habeas corpus brought by the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) on behalf of three elephants held captive at a traveling circus based in Goshen, CT. All four briefs maintain that the NhRP’s elephant clients Beulah, Karen, and Minnie are entitled to a hearing in the Superior Court on the merits of the NhRP’s claims that Beulah, Karen, and Minnie are legal persons with the fundamental right to bodily liberty and should be released to an elephant sanctuary where this right will be respected.

The experts who have filed briefs are:

Laurence H. Tribe (Carl M. Loeb University Professor at Harvard University and Professor of Constitutional Law at Harvard Law School):

“Cases like these recognize that the danger habeas corpus confronts—forceful but unjustified restraint and detention arguably in violation of applicable law—can exist even where the habeas petitioner does not resemble present-day rights holders. The question of Beulah, Minnie, and Karen’s legal personality is thus invariably entwined with the broader debate about the ‘rights’ of nonhuman animals and, about the ‘wrongs’ to which they should not be subjected by a decent society.”

Read Tribe’s brief here.

Justin Marceau (Animal Legal Defense Fund Professor of Law at the University of Denver, Sturm College of Law), Samuel Wiseman (McConnaughhay and Rissman Professor at Florida State University College of Law), and Brandon L. Garrett (the inaugural L. Neil Williams, Jr. Professor of Law at Duke University School of Law):

“One of the greatest blemishes on our justice system is the detention of innocent persons. The Writ of Habeas Corpus is intended to correct these injustices by requiring a person’s captors to justify the person’s imprisonment to the courts. While the Writ has helped exonerate hundreds of innocent human beings from unjust incarceration, this amicus brief argues that the time has come to consider its purpose in the context of other unjustly incarcerated beings.”

Read the professors’ brief here.

Mark Dubois (former President of the Connecticut Bar Association, Connecticut’s first Chief Disciplinary Counsel, and expert in the field of legal ethics and professional responsibility):

“The subjects of the Petition are sentient and autonomous beings with complex social systems who, in many ways, live their lives in a way that includes elements of what are understood and believed to be civil and social relationships, i.e., they are civilized beings. As such, they are ‘persons’ within the ambit of habeas corpus jurisprudence. In my professional opinion, the signatory lawyers to the Petition are acting upon an objectively reasonable belief that adequate factual grounds exist for the petition and the relief sought. The Petition is neither void of significance or reason nor petty, trivial, or unimportant. It has a sound basis in fact.”

Read Dubois’ brief here.

Philosophers Kristin Andrews (York University); Gary Comstock (North Carolina State University); G.K.D. Crozier (Laurentian University); Andrew Fenton (Dalhousie University); L. Syd M Johnson (Michigan Technological University); Robert Jones (California State University, Chico); Letitia Meynell (Dalhousie University); Nathan Nobis (Morehouse College); David Peña Guzmán (California State University, San Francisco); James Rocha (California State University, Fresno); Bernard Rollin (Colorado State); and Adam Shriver (University of British Columbia):

“Of the four conceptions of personhood employed by philosophers and other courts considering habeas relief for nonhuman animals, Species Membership is arbitrary and must be rejected, while the other three—Social Contract, Community Membership, and Capacities—suggest that Beulah, Karen, and Minnie are persons. This Court should recognize that when criteria for personhood are reasonably and consistently applied, Beulah, Karen, and Minnie satisfy the criteria and are entitled to habeas relief.”

Read the philosophers’ brief here.

Citing errors by the Connecticut Superior Court and New York judges’ recent embrace of nonhuman animal legal personhood and rights, the NhRP is seeking review of the lower court’s dismissal of its habeas corpus petition on behalf of Beulah, Karen, and Minnie.

“We are grateful so many respected experts in habeas corpus, professional responsibility, and moral philosophy believe that the arguments the NhRP has been making—that such nonhuman animals as Beulah, Karen, and Minnie are entitled to fundamental legal rights—are both important and correct and that they are taking the time to assist the appellate judges in understanding this,” said Steven M. Wise, founder and president of the NhRP. “We hope others will join them.”

In addition to Beulah, Karen, and Minnie, the NhRP has a fourth elephant client: Happy, held alone in captivity at the Bronx Zoo in New York.

For biographies of Beulah, Karen, and Minnie and a complete timeline of their court case, including links to all legal documents, visit their client page. 


Media Contact:
Lauren Choplin

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About the Nonhuman Rights Project
Founded in 1996 by attorney Steven M. Wise, the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) works to secure legally recognized fundamental rights for nonhuman animals through litigation, advocacy, and education. Our mission is to change the legal status of at least some nonhuman animals from mere “things,” which lack the capacity to possess any legal right, to “persons,” who possess such fundamental rights as bodily integrity and bodily liberty and those other legal rights to which evolving standards of morality, scientific discovery, and human experience entitle them. Our current plaintiffs are members of species who have been scientifically proven to be autonomous: currently, great apes, elephants, dolphins, and whales. We are working with teams of attorneys on four continents to develop campaigns to achieve legal rights for nonhuman animals that are suited to the legal systems of these countries. We filed our first cases in December of 2013, and our work is the subject of the 2016 Pennebaker Hegedus/HBO documentary film Unlocking the Cage, which has been seen by millions around the world.

About NhRP President Steven M. Wise
Steven M. Wise began his mission to gain rights for nonhuman animals in 1985. He holds a J.D. from Boston University Law School and a B.S. in chemistry from the College of William and Mary. He has practiced animal protection law for four decades and is admitted to the Massachusetts Bar. Professor Wise taught the first class in “Animal Rights Law” at the Harvard Law School and has taught “Animal Rights Jurisprudence” at the Stanford Law School, as well as the University of Miami, Vermont Law School, St. Thomas, and John Marshall Law Schools, and is currently teaching “Animal Rights Jurisprudence” at the Lewis and Clark Law School. He is the author of four books: Rattling the Cage – Toward Legal Rights for Animals; Drawing the Line – Science and the Case for Animal Rights; Though the Heavens May Fall – The Landmark Trial That Led to the End of Human Slavery; and An American Trilogy – Death, Slavery, and Dominion Along the Banks of the Cape Fear River. His TED Talk from the TED2015 Conference in Vancouver, Canada was released in May of 2015 and has over one million views.

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