Nonhuman Rights Project Argues for Chimpanzees' Rights, Release to Sanctuary in New York Appellate Court
A panel of five judges questions the NhRP’s Steven M. Wise: “Why rights?” Ruling expected in 5-8 weeks.
March 16, 2017, New York, N.Y.—The New York County Supreme Court, Appellate Division, First Judicial Department heard oral arguments today in the Nonhuman Rights Project’s appeal of a lower court’s denial of petitions for writs of habeas corpus on behalf of two captive chimpanzees, Tommy and Kiko.
In front of a packed courtroom, Nonhuman Rights Project President Steven Wise, the lead attorney in the case, argued that the capacity to bear duties and responsibilities is not a legally acceptable reason for denying recognition of Tommy’s and Kiko’s legal personhood and fundamental right to bodily liberty. He also told the judges that both chimpanzees should be freed from captivity to a Florida sanctuary under New York’s common law habeas corpus statute, which guarantees that all legal persons have the right to bodily liberty.
A cornerstone of Tommy’s and Kiko’s cases, this fundamental right should not be limited to human beings, Wise has repeatedly argued.
In a ruling in the NhRP’s first habeas petition on Tommy’s behalf—a ruling to which the lower court determined itself bound in its rulings on the NhRP’s second habeas petitions for Tommy and Kiko—the Appellate Division, Third Judicial Department assumed that chimpanzees cannot bear duties and responsibilities and that legal persons must have the capacity to do so. These assumptions are erroneous, Wise asserted during today’s hearing.
Requiring the ability to bear duties and responsibilities as a precondition for personhood, Wise said, “[would deprive] millions of humans in New York the ability to go into court” under habeas corpus, a reference to infants, children, incapacitated and elderly people who cannot realistically fulfill that requirement.
He also pointed out that chimpanzees can bear duties and responsibilities within their communities and said claiming otherwise is “biased and arbitrary.”
“It [the Third Department ruling] was irrational,” he told the court, citing the amicus brief submitted in support of the NhRP by Carl M. Loeb University Professor and Professor of Constitutional Law Laurence Tribe. “It was unfair, and it’s not backed up by science.”
Wise argued before the judges for just over 15 minutes, responding to questions that included why he keeps returning to court after failing in previous attempts (because he disagrees with the rulings, he said) and why he thinks chimpanzees should be afforded legal personhood under the law (he pointed out that women and blacks were also at one point not considered persons under the law).
At one point, the judges asked him why he’s not asking to set the chimpanzees free, but is instead requesting them to be moved to the sanctuary Save the Chimps. Wise pointed out that there are numerous habeas corpus cases in which the plaintiff is moved from one facility to another, including from a mental hospital to a prison.
Wise also clarified to the judges that he is not seeking “human rights” for Tommy and Kiko, but rather legal rights that would give them protections under the law—namely, the right to bodily liberty—that they do not currently have. As the law is now, the chimpanzees are considered “things,” and the only way to guarantee them fundamental rights would be to have them declared “persons.” Other nonhuman entities, including corporations, have been recognized as legal persons.
“I think it went well,” Wise said after the hearing. “It was a lot of questions really fast, which is what we like. Judges have concerns and questions, and it’s a privilege that they express their concerns so that I can address them. I thought we did address their concerns. All our arguments are grounded on fundamental ideas of justice. And I think when the judges sit down and look at them, they’ll see the truth in what we’re saying. The reasons that humans have rights are the same as to why nonhumans should have rights. I am eternally optimistic.”
A decision is expected in five to eight weeks.
CASE NO. Tommy: Index. No. 162358/15 (New York County) & Kiko: Index. No. 150149/16 (New York County)
CASE NAMES: THE NONHUMAN RIGHTS PROJECT, INC., on behalf of TOMMY, Petitioner-Appellant, -against- PATRICK C. LAVERY, individually and as an officer of Circle L Trailer Sales, Inc., DIANE L. LAVERY, and CIRCLE L TRAILER SALES, INC., Respondents-Respondents. & THE NONHUMAN RIGHTS PROJECT, INC., on behalf of KIKO, Petitioner-Appellant, -against- CARMEN PRESTI, individually and as an officer and director of The Primate Sanctuary, Inc., CHRISTIE E. PRESTI, individually and as an officer and director of The Primate Sanctuary, Inc., and THE PRIMATE SANCTUARY, INC., Respondents-Respondents.
For more information on Tommy, Kiko, and the NhRP’s court cases on their behalf, visit https://www.nonhumanrights.org/litigation/
About the Nonhuman Rights Project
Founded in 1996 by attorney Steven M. Wise, the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) is the only civil rights organization working to achieve actual legal rights for members of species other than our own. 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. Our first cases were filed in December of 2013.
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 38 years and is admitted to the Massachusetts Bar. Professor Wise taught the first class in “Animal Rights Law” at the Harvard Law School and is currently teaching “Animal Rights Jurisprudence” at the Lewis and Clark Law School and Vermont 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 nearly one million views.