Lawyers representing a chimpanzee owned and kept in a cage in an upstate New York town have, for the moment, lost their bid to win a writ of habeas corpus, a basic protection against illegal imprisonment.
In a unanimous opinion, five judges of the state’s Supreme Court Appellate Division declined Thursday to extend habeas corpus to ‘Tommy,’ a chimpanzee kept at Circle L Trailer Sales in Gloversville, N.Y., about 50 miles northwest of Albany.
Lawyers for Tommy had argued that the animal be regarded not as property but a “complex autonomous legal person with the fundamental legal right not to be imprisoned.” As such, the lawsuit argued, the chimp must be freed. The case has been held up as a potential groundbreaker for the animal-rights movement.
When the complaint was filed, in early December 2013, Steven Wise, the president of the Nonhuman Rights Project, said: “Not long ago, people generally agreed that human slaves could not be legal persons, but were simply the property of their owners. . . We will assert, based on clear scientific evidence, that it’s time to take the next step and recognize that these nonhuman animals cannot continue to be exploited as the property of their human ‘owners.’”
But on Thursday, the judges disagreed. Wrote Judge Karen Peters:
We . . . conclude that a chimpanzee is not a “person” entitled to the rights and protections afforded by the writ of habeas corpus. . . .
While petitioner proffers various justifications for affording chimpanzees, such as Tommy, the liberty rights protected by such writ, the ascription of rights has historically been connected with the imposition of societal obligations and duties. Reciprocity between rights and responsibilities stems from principles of social contract, which inspired the ideals of freedom and democracy at the core of our system of government. Under this view, society extends rights in exchange for an express or implied agreement from its members to submit to social responsibilities. . . .
Needless to say, unlike human beings, chimpanzees cannot bear any legal duties, submit to societal responsibilities or be held legally accountable for their actions. In our view, it is this incapability to bear any legal responsibilities and societal duties that renders it inappropriate to confer upon chimpanzees the legal rights – such as the fundamental right to liberty protected by the writ of habeas corpus – that have been afforded to human beings.
The judges did, however, suggest another avenue for Tommy and its lawyers to pursue: redress to the New York legislature.
Our rejection of a rights paradigm for animals does not, however, leave them defenseless. The Legislature has extended significant protections to animals, subject to criminal penalties, such as prohibiting the torture or unjustifiable killing of animals, the abandonment of animals in a public place, the transportation of animals in cruel or inhuman manners or by railroad without periodically allowing them out for rest and sustenance, and the impounding of animals and then failing to provide them sustenance.
Thus, while petitioner has failed to establish that common-law relief in the nature of habeas corpus is appropriate here, it is fully able to importune the Legislature to extend further legal protections to chimpanzees.
The Nonhuman Rights Project said in a statement Thursday that the court “ignores the fact that the common law is supposed to change in light of new scientific discoveries, changing experiences, and changing ideas of what is right or wrong.” It said it already pursuing an appeal to the New York Court of Appeals.
PD: In other words, attorney Steven Wise wants animals to be people without calling them people. Kinda like calling the whales at Sea World slaves. Not much difference. In fact PETA claimed the whales had rights under the CONSTITUTION……..no slavery law?