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NhRP Statement on NEAVS V. USFWS

By Lauren Choplin

“The injured have no rights, and those with rights are not injured.” – Steven M. Wise, founder and President, the Nonhuman Rights Project

On Sept. 15, a federal district judge in Washington, D.C. dismissed the New England Anti-Vivisection Society’s lawsuit alleging that the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to grant export licenses to ship eight chimpanzees from Yerkes National Primate Research Center to an unaccredited English zoo violated numerous federal statutes. The Court’s decision makes clear that the plaintiffs’ allegations were substantial and deserved the attention of a federal court, but were never going to receive that attention because the plaintiffs lacked standing. That is to say, the human plaintiffs were not injured—only the chimpanzees.

As the Court acknowledged at the beginning of its decision, dismissal of a case on these grounds is a familiar issue for animal advocates: “[t]he question of who can speak for the animals has long vexed federal judges in animal welfare cases.” The Court also noted how difficult it is “to apply settled standing doctrine to determine when and under what circumstances an act that is allegedly harmful to animal works a cognizable injury in fact to humans.”

We heartily applaud the efforts of NEAVS and its co-plaintiffs in litigating this important case. But the fact remains that federal courts often dismiss cases involving allegations of injury to humans in “animal welfare” cases for lack of standing. So long as there are only “animal welfare” cases, these dismissals are never going to stop, for a fatal and inherent contradiction exists. The injured have no rights, and those with rights are not injured.

This contradiction catalyzed the formation of the Nonhuman Rights Project years ago. It is the reason we fight to establish actual legal rights for nonhuman animals. Their “standing” will automatically follow as they transform from legal “things” to legal “persons.” Only then will their interests—separate from our interests in them—become visible to our legal system.

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