Habeas Corpus

Matter of Nonhuman Rights Project v Stanley

This is the latest in a series of habeas corpus petitions, uniformly unsuccessful but notable nonetheless, brought by the Nonhuman Rights Project in an effort to have various captive chimpanzees recognized as “persons.” The strategy is that granting habeas relief to chimps necessarily entails recognition of their personhood, since habeas relief is available only to “persons.” As with the others, this petition has been dismissed, but this time not without achieving the minor victory of having obtained a hearing on the merits.

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I have previously reported attempts by the Nonhuman Rights Project to have chimpanzees recognized as legal persons, through the vehicle of writs of habeas corpus. (here and here) Well, here we go again.

The New York Times reported yesterday that a judge in Supreme Court, New York County has signed an Order to Show Cause for a writ of habeas corpus relating to Hercules and Leo, two chimpanzees kept at SUNY Stony Brook. The petition is at least the fourth such brought by the Nonhuman Rights Project, one in each Department. The main argument made in the petitions is that chimpanzees, being undeniably sentient, intelligent beings, are “persons” within the meaning of the Great Writ of habeas corpus, and are therefore entitled to its protections. As the article properly notes, merely signing the Order to Show Cause is not an indication that the judge will ultimately grant the writ and declare the chimpanzees to be legal persons. The initial press release by the Nonhuman Rights Project trumpeted the claim that by signing the Order to Show Cause, the court necessarily recognized the humanity of Hercules and Leo. That seems an overly optimistic reading. As if to underscore that point, the judge later amended the order by striking the words “& WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS”. Still, this is the first time one of these proposed Orders to Show Cause has actually been signed, and therefore the first time one will reach the stage of a hearing.  Read More