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Laurence H. Tribe Supports Tommy and Kiko Habeas Petitions

By Lauren Choplin

Today Laurence H. Tribe (Carl M. Loeb University Professor and Professional of Constitutional Law at Harvard University) requested leave to file two amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) briefs in support of the Nonhuman Rights Project. One brief addresses the NhRP’s appeal with the New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, First Judicial Department on behalf of Tommy the chimpanzee, and the second brief addresses the NhRP’s appeal with same department on behalf of Kiko the chimpanzee.

In the briefs, Tribe urges the court to consider Tommy and Kiko’s cases on the merits and “recognize that [they are] autonomous being[s] who [are] currently detained and who [are] therefore entitled to challenge the lawfulness of [their] detention by petitioning for the writ, even if that court ultimately concludes that [their] detention is lawful.”

The New York State Supreme Court Appellate Division, Third Judicial Department erred in its Dec. 2014 ruling in Tommy’s case, Tribe argues, because it “misunderstood” and “unjustifiably curtailed the scope of” habeas corpus and “superimposed an overly rigid and formalistic notion of personhood on an inquiry that should have turned on the fundamental role of habeas corpus as a bulwark against forms of physical detention that our law should be understood to condemn.”

The lower court that denied the NhRP’s second petition for a common law writ of habeas corpus and order to show cause on Tommy and Kiko’s behalf, respectively, did so in part because it believed itself bound by the aforementioned ruling, which asserts that chimpanzees cannot be legal persons because they cannot bear duties and responsibilities.

Action on the briefs—Tribe’s third and fourth in support of the NhRP—is expected in the next four to six weeks.

The First Judicial Department has scheduled a hearing in Tommy’s case for the Jan. 2017 term and a hearing in Kiko’s case for the Feb. 2017 Term (exact dates TBD).

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