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  • Bob Kohn

Amicus Curiae Brief Opposes Human Rights for Chimpanzee

Yesterday, I filed an amicus brief on behalf of The Center for the Study of the Great Ideas in opposition to a lawsuit by the Nonhuman Rights Project (NRP) to release a chimp named Tommy from captivity. As reported last week, the NRP filed a motion with NY's highest court, requesting that the court review the decision by a lower court which held Tommy is not a "person" under the law.

The amicus brief filed yesterday responded point-by-point to NRP's motion. The brief contends that the Appellate Division's rejection of the writ properly rested on its rulings that (a) no nonhuman animal has ever been considerd a "person" for purpose of a common law writ of habeas corpus and (b) chimps are not "persons" because "unlike human beings, chimpanzees cannot bear any legal duties."

In its latest attempt to persuade the courts that chimps are entitled to "personhood" under the law, the NRP suggested that the issue of personhood is a policy issue for the legislature to decide. But as our amicus brief points out, the NY legislature has never bestowed personhood upon any nonhuman animals. And as to who gets to decide the question, the U.S. Supreme Court, in Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973), specifically rejected the notion that the question of personhood devolves upon the legislature; on the contrary, the high court decided that personhood is an issue for the courts to decide under the 14th Amendment's "concept of personal liberty and restrictions upon state action." Id. at 153, 158. Indeed, even a strong judicial opponent of the result in Roe v. Wade agreed that the argument that personhood is a policy issue for the legislature is the same argument made by the Nazi judges at Nuremberg.

The New York Court of Appeals is expected to rule on the NRP's motion in May, 2015. If the court accepts the appeal, a briefing schedule will be announced. If the court rejects the appeal, the NRP could seek review by the United States Supreme Court.

My thanks to Max Weismann, executive director of the Center for the Study of the Great Ideas, for giving me this opportunity to represent the Center in this matter. I am also grateful for the pro bono assistance I received from Daniel Kornstein, Esq. and Mark Platt, Esq. of Kornstein, Veisz, Wexler & Pollard LLP.

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