Tommy The Chimp Still Not A Person

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Yesterday, a New York State Appellate Division issued its ruling on the Nonhuman Rights Project’s petition to grant Tommy the chimpanzee personhood rights:

Noting that the Nonhuman Rights Project ”requests that this Court enlarge the common-law definition of ‘person’ in order to afford legal rights to an animal,” the Court’s decision was that “We decline to do so, and conclude that a chimpanzee is not a “person” entitled to the rights and protections afforded by the writ of habeas corpus.

NHRP goes on to explain in detail why it disagrees with the decision, and says it will appeal the decision to the New York Court of Appeals.

While it would have been great if the Appellate Court had granted Tommy a writ of habeus corpus, establishing basic personhood rights to an animal for the first time (and, importantly, opening the door to his tiny cage in a trailer park so he could be moved to a sanctuary), the refusal to grant Tommy basic rights was not necessarily a surprise. This has probably always been a question that will be decided at the highest appeals court level (though it would have been nice to go to that level with a positive ruling to defend), and now the argument has just moved one level up the chain.

But the next level, the New York Court of Appeals, is the final level. If NHRP does not win the argument before that court, then that will put an end to its efforts to win personhood rights for a chimp via Tommy. The chance that its arguments for any single animal might fail is the reason NHRP originally launched legal bids on behalf of four chimps, to try to improve the odds of a successful outcome.

So if Tommy’s case doesn’t come to a successful conclusion, the hope is that Kiko, Hercules or Leo will deliver. Stay tuned. This is the long game.

“Kiko, Hercules, Leo, I may need your help.” Photo: Pennebaker Hegedus Films


Is Tommy The Chimp About To Be Ruled A “Person”?

“I may not be human, but I’m still a person, dammit!”

Steve Wise and the NonHuman Rights Project have argued before a New York State Appeals Court that Tommy, a chimpanzee who lives alone in a tiny cage, is not a “thing” and deserves some legal rights. With the appeals court ruling pending, Wise runs through what may happen:

Now is a good time to explain what the decision of the Appellate Department Court will mean for Tommy and for the NhRP’s long-term strategic litigation campaign to break through the legal wall that divides human “persons”, who have the capacity for legal rights, from nonhuman animal “things”, who don’t.

The decision will mean everything for Tommy. Will he be transferred to Save the Chimps in South Florida, there to end his days in the company of a two dozen other chimpanzees, all living on an a semi-tropical island? Or must he live out a nasty, short, and brutish life in solitary confinement?

The appellate decision will be not be a simple matter of “We won” or “We lost.” The court could order any number of things. And whatever it orders may be subject to review by New York State’s highest court, the Court of Appeals.

It might declare that Tommy is a “person” within the meaning of New York’s habeas corpus law, issue the writ of habeas corpus, and return the case to the trial court.

It might assume, without deciding, that Tommy could be a “person,” and return the case to the trial court to rule on whether Tommy actually is a “person.”

It might affirm the trial court’s ruling that Tommy is not a “person” and never could be, not even if he argued the appeals himself. Then we will have several routes to the Court of Appeals. We have the right of further review by the Court of Appeals if two Appellate Department judges dissented or if the New York Constitution was invoked. We can ask the Appellate Department for permission to apply to the Court of Appeals for further review. And we can petition the Court of Appeals directly for permission to appeal. I have nowhere exhausted the possibilities.

This is a big deal. If Wise can somehow get this court or another appeals court to agree that Tommy deserves certain basic legal rights, he will have cracked through centuries of legal tradition that has treated animals as things, not sentient beings. And that tradition has resulted in untold animal suffering.

So stay tuned. If Wise loses this round, he is ready to appeal some more. But if he wins animal rights will take a giant leap forward. It is a fascinating legal and human, I mean non-human person, drama.

Big News Of The Day: NonHuman Rights Project Files Suit For Chimpanzees

“I’d really like the right to get out of here.”

We may talk about animal rights, but animals in fact have no legal rights. The NonHuman Rights Project is determined to change that, and win basic “personhood” rights for nonhuman animals, and has now filed its first lawsuit, on behalf of a chimpanzee named Tommy. Similar lawsuits will follow this week:

This morning at 10.00 E.T., the Nonhuman Rights Project filed suit in Fulton County Court in the state of New York on behalf of Tommy, a chimpanzee, who is being held captive in a cage in a shed at a used trailer lot in Gloversville.

This is the first of three suits we are filing this week. The second will be filed on Tuesday in Niagara Falls on behalf of Kiko, a chimpanzee who is deaf and living in a private home. And the third will be filed on Thursday on behalf of Hercules and Leo, who are owned by a research center and are being used in locomotion experiments at Stony Brook University on Long Island.

The lawsuits ask the judge to grant the chimpanzees the right to bodily liberty and to order that they be moved to a sanctuary that’s part of the North American Primate Sanctuary Alliance (NAPSA), where they can live out their days with others of their kind in an environment as close to the wild as is possible in North America.

Establishing some semblance of legal rights for animals is the new frontier for “animal rights,” and potentially the most powerful strategy possible to change the way in which humans relate to animals. Much more on the lawsuits being launched this week here.

Stay tuned….

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