April 24, 2015

MONKEYING AROUND:  You can’t make this stuff up, folks.  A New York state judge, Barbara Jaffe, has ordered a hearing in May to determine if two chimpanzees, Hercules and Leo,  owned by Stony Brook University, are being “unlawfully detained.” The lawsuit has been filed on the chimps’ behalf by the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP), a group formed to establish the legal rights of nonhumans through litigation, “beginning with some of the most cognitively complex animals on earth, including chimpanzees, elephants, dolphins, and whales.”

The NhRP initially convinced Jaffe that Hercules and Leo were entitled to habeas corpus— the first time any U.S. court has granted such a right to a nonhuman. A few hours later, Jaffe apparently became aware of the fact that non-humans are not entitled to habeas (guess she forgot that basic legal principle?), and issued an order for Stony Brook to “show cause” for “detaining” Hercules and Leo–which is bad enough, as it imposes a burden upon the owner of an animal to explain to a judge why an animal is being “detained.”  I would hate to think that some radical leftist neighbor could haul me into court to “show cause” as to why I am “detaining” my dog, Thomas Jefferson.

And indeed, this nightmare scenario is already unfolding.  A similar habeas corpus petition was brought in NY state courts in December on behalf of a 26 year-old chimpanzee named Tommy, owned as a pet by a couple who kept Tommy in a cage– an understandable “detention,” for a potentially dangerous animal, as illustrated by the tragic recent case of Travis the chimpanzee.   An appellate court rejected the extension of habeas corpus to Tommy, reasoning:

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 amazing thing about this rationale is that it implies that if some animals could bear a legal duty, submit to societal responsibilities, or be held accountable for their actions (any one of which could conceivably be imposed via enactment of statutes declaring such), the court would be willing to entertain the proposition that a pet–or any other “detained” nonhuman– could be granted corresponding legal rights equal with humans.  Why even open the door to that possibility?

A similar legal “opening” came from another New York state judge, who in January denied a habeas corpus petition filed by NhRP on behalf of Kiko the chimpanzee, reasoning as follows:

Here, petitioner does not seek Kiko’s immediate release, nor does petitioner allege that Kiko’s continued detention is unlawful. Rather, petitioner seeks to have Kiko placed in a different facility that petitioner deems more appropriate. Consequently, even assuming, arguendo, that we agreed with petitioner that Kiko should be deemed a person for the purpose of this application, and further assuming, arguendo, that petitioner has standing to commence this proceeding on behalf of Kiko, this matter is governed by the line of cases standing for the proposition that habeas corpus does not lie where a petitioner seeks only to change the conditions of confinement rather than the confinement itself.

Ugh.  The judge didn’t say he would have granted a habeas petition challenging Kiko’s confinement per se, but he also didn’t shut the door on that possibility.

I like animals as much as anyone, but they aren’t human.  This doesn’t mean, of course, that our legal regime should tolerate any animal abuse. Indeed, counsel for Tommy’s habeas petition stated that the goal of the lawsuit was not to challenge the conditions of Tommy’s confinement (there was no allegation that he was being abused, which would have triggered protection under state animal cruelty law), but  “to obtain recognition for a single right: the right to not be imprisoned against one’s will” because “Tommy is the equivalent of a human child.”

This argument is gaining ground around the globe.  In December, an Argentine court recently granted a habeas corpus petition and ordered the release of an orangutan being “detained” in a zoo.  Even Obama’s regulatory czar, Cass Sunstein, has argued stridently that animals should have legal standing to sue.

Do these radical left-wing animal rights activists stop to think about what the world would look like if they succeed?  They actually argue that since corporations and other business entities have legal rights, “other nonhumans” should, too.  Um, I hate to break it to these bozos, but corporations and other business entities are merely legal mechanisms by which HUMANS join together for purposes of efficiently carrying on a business.

If animals have human rights, it’s not merely that you and I might find ourselves sued by Fido or Mittens, who no longer wish to be “detained” as our pets or in our zoos.  Much of this country’s medical research would shut down, as preclinical trials on animals is necessary for approval of human drugs and invaluable for numerous other medical research.  What is it about radical leftists that their tree-hugging, whale-loving concern for life doesn’t extend to humans?

UPDATE:  Today’s Wall Street Journal has an excellent oped extolling the human benefits from animal testing, including recent progress on Ebola and brain tumors.

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