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Why Arbitrarily Denying Personhood To Any Being Is Dangerous and Wrong

By Lauren Choplin

Today the Nonhuman Rights Project requested leave to file a reply to an amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) brief filed Nov. 29 by Richard L. Cupp, Jr. with the New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, First Judicial Department in chimpanzee Tommy’s case.

Cupp “offers neither science nor law to support his positions” and reasons from a flawed understanding of the meaning of the social contract and how the common law evolves, the NhRP argues.

In his brief, Cupp, a law professor at Pepperdine University, maintains that the Court should deny the NhRP’s appeal because, unlike humans, nonhuman animals do not possess a “sufficient level of moral agency” to be considered legal persons under the social contract and the existing norms of a “human legal system.” Cupp opposes recognition of rights for any nonhuman animal, which he sees as a potential threat to vulnerable humans.

Far from being a threat to humans, recognition of Tommy’s legal personhood and fundamental right to bodily liberty only strengthens human rights, the NhRP asserts:

Professor Cupp has it exactly backwards when he argues that granting Tommy the basic common law right to bodily liberty would somehow threaten the rights of vulnerable human beings. It is Professor Cupp’s position, not the NhRP’s, that poses a threat not just to the most vulnerable human beings, but to all rightsholders, for arbitrarily denying personhood to any being undermines every rational claim of every human to personhood and fundamental rights.

The NhRP cites specific rulings, including a ruling by the US Supreme Court, to emphasize that the social contract does not require individual “participation” of the sort used to deny Tommy his personhood—the determination of which is a matter of public policy, not personal philosophy.

The Court granted Cupp’s motion to file his amicus curiae brief on Dec. 22 and moved Tommy’s hearing from the January term to the same day in the February term as Kiko’s hearing (as yet unscheduled).

The NhRP expects the Court to act on its motion for leave to file a reply to Cupp’s brief in the coming weeks.

To learn more about Tommy’s case, visit his client page.

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