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Update on Chimp Cases

King Kong 1.jpg

Here's an update on where we stand with the chimp cases filed by the NonHuman Rights Project (NhRP). Last year, I filed an amicus curiae ("friend-of-the-court") brief with the Appellate Division of NY State Court opposing a petition filed by the (NhRP) to seek the release of a chimp named, Tommy.

The NhRP was not seeking the chimp's release under NY State's animal rights law that provides relief for animals being confined in "unhealthful conditions," but by the novel means of a writ of habeas corpus. NhRP is taking the position that certain nonhuman animals--including chimps, dolphins, whales, and elephants--are legal persons under the law and, therefore, are entitled to "bodily liberty."

The trial court denied the writ. The Appellate Division, after a hearing held in October, 2015, ruled unanimously against the NhRP, denying the writ, on one of the grounds I stated in my brief: legal rights flow from legal duties, not the other way around. As I stated in my brief, if one does not have the capacity to understand or carry out moral or legal obligations, such as respecting the life, liberty, and property of others, then it cannot be said to have rights.

The Court agreed: "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 NhRP is now seeking to appeal that ruling to the Court of Appeals, the highest court in New York State. Earlier this year, I filed a new amicus brief opposing that appeal. Yesterday, Harvard Professor Lawrence Tribe joined the fray by filing an amicus brief, supporting personhood for the chimpanzee Tommy. Should the Court of Appeals agree to rule on the appeal, I should get to reply formally to Professor Tribe.

Meanwhile, earlier this year the NhRP filed another case, this time in Manhattan, seeking the release of two chimps named Leo and Hercules being held at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. I have filed an amicus brief in this case, too.

The Attorney General for the State of New York is expected to respond with papers today. (Last week, the AG filed papers stating that it did not oppose the filing of my amicus brief). A hearing on the matter has been scheduled for next week, May 27, 2015 at 10:30am, N.Y. County Supreme Court Civil Branch 60 Centre Street in Room 300. See you there!

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