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  • Bob Kohn

NY Times Weighs In: Is Chimp a Legal "Person"?

The New York Times today put its considerable weight behind the question of whether non-human animals, such as chimpanzees, should be considered "persons" under the law. Their coverage of the controversial question includes a cover story in the New York Times Magazine and an op-ed piece (which includes a short video produced by the newspaper). The paper previously covered the legal efforts of attorney Steven Wise and his Nonhuman Rights Project in articles here and here.

As discussed in an earlier post, this writer is sympathetic with the plight of animals suffering in captivity, but is skeptical of means by which the Nonhuman Rights Project (NRP) are going about an otherwise laudable effort: rather than using existing law to redress the cruel treatment of animals, NRP is instead is attempting to change the the common law status of nonhuman animals from mere "things" to "persons," which would entitled them to certain fundamental human rights, such as bodily integrity and liberty, as well as other legal rights.

Rather cleverly, the means the NRP has chosen to that end is the common and statutory law writ of habeas corpus, which allows "a person" (or one acting on his behalf) who is illegally restrained in his liberty within the state petition the courts to inquire into the cause of such detention and for deliverance. The NRP is taking the position, in their initial cases, that chimpanzees (and later, according to its website, elephants, whales and dolphins) are legal "persons" for the purpose of habeas corpus petitions.

So far, one New York State trial judge has rejected the petition, refusing to "make this leap of faith." That decision is on appeal, and I hope review NPR's appellate arguments shortly. Hang around!

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